OR Tambo robbery could have been thwarted if phones had been answered
Police at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport were given about 90 minutes’ warning of the daring cash heist last week – but could not stop it, largely because officers on duty failed to answer their phones.
Four sources with knowledge of the warning said that, had the information been acted on, the heist could have been thwarted.
Their claims fly in the face of official police statements that categorically deny that a warning had been given.
SA Police Union president Mpho Kwinika said yesterday: “The truth over exactly what happened must be revealed. We have damning information that what really happened is being covered up – that warnings were received but not acted on by senior police management.”
The warning about the heist on Tuesday last week was phoned in to the police charge office at the airport.
The anonymous caller gave detailed information. The call was at about 6pm – nearly 1½ hours before the crime.
It is believed that it was also disclosed that the robbers – four of whom have been arrested – would be masquerading as policemen in vehicles with police markings, sirens and blue lights. But instead of senior officers reacting, it was left to the junior officer who took the call to raise the alarm.
The alarm was not only raised with senior police officers but also with Airports Company of SA officials and airport security personnel, including guards at gates around the airport.
It is understood that a lieutenantcolonel at the charge office, on receiving the tip-off, immediately notified her seniors, who advised that those on duty be alerted. But they could not be reached. Their phones rang unanswered.
Suspecting that the robbery was at the cargo section, the lieutenant-colonel tried to notify officers there – but they also failed to answer their phones.
The officer eventually reached police in the cargo section and alerted them, ordering them to notify security guards at the gate and dog unit members at the airport.
She told them to prepare for an assault and to search all vehicles entering the premises.
The cargo police forum, which deals with crimes at the airport’s cargo section, was also notified. The officer, sources say, had also ordered that a warning be placed on a WhatsApp group that the police, Acsa and security personnel use.
The message placed was a call for urgent assistance.
The robbers escaped with about R200million in foreign currency after holding up security officials at a cargo bay.
Announcing four arrests on Tuesday night, acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said they were treating reports of a warning as rumours. The day after the heist, the police denied there had been a tip-off.
On Tuesday, Phahlane said: “If there was information we would have acted. The warnings remain a rumour but will form an integral part of the investigation.” ACSA refused to comment. Police spokesman Colonel Athlenda Mathe said two men who had appeared in court in Kempton Park had been released on R50 000 bail.
Two of those arrested were Zimbabweans caught with nearly R100 000 in cash as they were about to cross the border into Zimbabwe. – The Times