By Baldwin Ndaba, Candice Bailey and Kutlwano Olifant

Five days before the World Cup kick-off, R11 million was stolen from banking giant Nedbank - but the break-in was kept "a secret" because of the upcoming event.

More than 10 men stormed the bank's depot in Midrand on June 6, where they disconnected the alarm, cut open a vault with angle-grinders and fled with the cash.

But police believe this is just one of many sophisticated bank robberies taking place across the city, where criminals are now targeting bank vaults, using white-collar approaches.

In the latest incident yesterday, two robbers made a failed attempt to open a vault at the FNB depot in Lenasia, south of Joburg.

The men had approached the 40-year-old security guard after midnight. One armed robber tied him up with tape and held him hostage for three hours, while the other attempted to access the vault.

The traumatised guard, who did not want to be named, told The Star that during the incident, his life flashed before him.

"I was so afraid seated next to a man holding a gun next to my head. I thought they were going to kill me. I kept thinking about my family.

"On Wednesday, I have to report to the same bank. I am afraid. This is my first robbery since I became a security guard six years ago," the guard said.

The men, who have been captured on CCTV footage, were forced to flee after being disturbed by a security alarm and are now on the run, said Lenasia police spokesman Captain Mbulaheni Netshivhedza.

Godfrey Jack, of Fidelity guarding services, said it was believed that the robbers arrived with a copy of the vault's key.

He said that in Fidelity's latest investigations, bank robberies were decreasing, but it was the vaults that were under attack.

"There is no force used. Keys are being used. From that we can derive that it must be an inside job. Robbers are no longer relying on older approaches of using bombs to get safe doors open. It is more of a sophisticated approach."

Sources in the banking industry agreed with Jack, saying the Lenasia incident was typical of criminal elements' latest modus operandi.

"They collude with people working in the banks to allow them easy access into the bank to remove the cash. They have good relations with people working in the control rooms of the banks," one of the sources said.

Referring to the Lenasia incident, sources said the robbers knew the depot had been storing cash from banks in the surrounding areas, which was due to be transported later in the day to the main FNB cash depot in Trump Street, Selby.

In Midrand, the gang initially went to the nearby Telkom box, where they disconnected all the phone links to the bank. They then went inside to the main security point and disconnected the alarm system, and diverted the video footage camera to allow them free access to the vault.

The sources said the gang was made up of highly skilled people who were aware of all the security points. It is not clear how they gained access to the bank, but it's believed they could have been provided with the keys.

Yesterday, Nedbank for the first time confirmed the theft and burglary. Spokeswoman Joanne Isaacs said the robbers stole an "undisclosed amount of cash".

Isaacs was tight-lipped, revealing only that Nedbank was working closely with the police to assist with the investigations.

But sources said the incident had been swept under the carpet because it would have been negative publicity just before the World Cup kicked off.

"I think the robbery was not made known because of the number of people who were coming to our country for the World Cup. It would have been a bad reflection for our country," a source said.

Gauteng police spokesman Brigadier Govindsamy Mariemuthoo, however, denied reports that the Nedbank theft was kept secret. He said the police would have issued a statement if there had been a media inquiry about it.

Dr Johan Burger, from the Institute of Security Studies' crime and justice programme, said yesterday's attack on the Lenasia FNB appeared to be an "out of the ordinary" robbery.

"We have found over the years that if there is an increase in one crime, you can possibly see a displacement of crime geographically and in terms of the target.

"When the risk becomes too great, it outweighs the advantages, and they turn to a new target or a geographical area where the risk is substantially lower," Burger said.

lOn February 11, 2006, a group of armed men stormed into FNB's cash depot in Selby, Joburg, and stole R46 million. They were captured on camera while removing the money.