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'OR Tambo Airport heist not an isolated incident'

The Air Cargo operators committee’s Alwyn Rautenbach says at least six such incidents were recorded last year alone.

FILE: A South African Airways flight takes off as another one is parked in a bay on the tarmac at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. Picture: AFP.

PRETORIA – While Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) and the police have committed to identifying those responsible for a multi-million-rand heist, it’s emerged at least half a dozen such incidents took place last year alone.

On Tuesday gunmen dressed as police officers stole more than R20 million in foreign currency from the cargo area.

Acsa has confirmed that the two vehicles used have been recovered in Mamelodi.

The latest robbery at the supposedly secure side of the OR Tambo International Airport comes just five months after a gang made off with an estimated one-and-a-half tons of electronic goods in crates.

On Tuesday night, the criminals entered the air cargo side of the facility dressed as police offices, but it in the October incident they had further help from airport staff.

The Air Cargo operators committee’s Alwyn Rautenbach says at least six such incidents were recorded last year alone.

“Ours is just a concern that police uniforms are used and marked police cars are also used. It appears to us as though police are involved.”

The Hawks have established a task team to investigate the incident.

HOW DID ROBBERS GAIN ACCESS?

Authorities are investigating how the gang of robbers managed to bypass strict security at OR Tambo International Airport before making off with a consignment of expensive items.

The gang intercepted the consignment shortly before it was due to be loaded onto an international flight; it’s still unclear how the gang managed to enter the restricted area.

National police are working closely with Acsa and South African Airways (SAA) to determine how the brazen heist was carried out.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said they are investigating all possibilities and can’t rule out that inside information was handed out to criminals.

“They may have received assistance from certain individuals.”

Several investigations are now underway to get to the bottom of robbery, while SAA says its own probe will determine whether any disciplinary steps need to be taken against airline staff.

INSIDE JOB

The organisation which represents air cargo handlers is convinced the robbery at the airport was an inside job.

Rautenbach said it’s simply impossible to gain access to the air side cargo area without help from someone on the inside.

“The gates must have been opened by security guards to get in and get out. Otherwise, the person will be identified by finger prints, by air flight access card, the vehicle had to be searched before it entered and before it exits. Clearly that procedure was not followed.”

He said the association has been trying since 2007 to improve security and access control to the area, but they’ve received very little co-operation from Acsa.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)

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