Airports Step Up Security after $16.5M Robbery

Acsa to step up security after $16,5m robbery Sophisticated robbers are targeting the world's airports, including Johannesburg International Public Policy Correspondent MONEY, diamonds and other gems passing through a network of 1600 of the world's major airports are increasingly becoming targets of sensational heists.

Last month alone, close to $30m was stolen in three unrelated robberies at some of the world's busiest airports.

The Miami Herald reported that in March two armed men leapt out of a truck at a warehouse near Miami International Airport, ordered everyone to the ground and fled with $7,4m. The cash had just arrived on a Lufthansa Airlines flight from Frankfurt and was to be delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank.

Later last month, a gang stormed a Scandinavian Airlines aircraft at Sweden's Goteborg Landvetter airport, making off with about $6m.

Two weeks ago, a gang managed to gain entry into a high security area at Johannesburg International Airport and stole about $16,5m, the largest amount ever stolen at the airport. Before this, the last major heist at the airport was in December 2001 when armed men made off with $1,5m in cash and diamonds and jewellery worth $100000. Three senior airport managers, suspected of colluding with the gang, have been arrested in connection with the latest robbery. The trio, who have yet to be formally charged, appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court last Wednesday and have been remanded in police custody until Friday, when they are expected to apply for bail. Their employer, Airports Company SA (Acsa), says it is very disappointing and unfortunate that its employees have been implicated in the heist. The company has suspended the managers with full pay. South African Police Service spokesman Vish Naidoo says two foreign nationals were also arrested within hours of the heist. They were caught at the Beit Bridge border post on their way to Zimbabwe and were allegedly carrying an undisclosed amount of money, two rifles, a pistol, a bolt cutter and ammunition.

Naidoo said: The suspects face possible charges of armed robbery and pointing a firearm, as well as charges relating to the Aviation Act. Police say Johannesburg International Airport is governed by the National Key Points Act and anyone who illegally enters the airport's restricted areas commits a criminal offence. In terms of this legislation, anyone who breaches security at a national key point is committing an offence and, on conviction, is liable to a fine of up to R10000 and/or a sentence of up to three years in jail.

Acsa spokesman Solomon Makgale says the company is disappointed by the alleged collusion between the trio and the suspected robbers. We respect their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty but it is very disappointing and unfortunate that Acsa employees are implicated in this manner.

However, we will be led by the police investigation in this regard, he says.

In a bid to tighten security at the Johannesburg airport, Makgale says, the parastatal is building a 28km concrete wall around the facility. Acsa will also overhaul the entire access permit system at all of the 10 airports within its remit.

Planned changes include using biometric readers to access restricted areas. These use physiological features such as fingerprints and voice recognition software to allow or bar entry into restricted areas.

In addition to closed-circuit cameras at the airports, Acsa has also banned cellular phone use by staff in restricted areas.

Furthermore, the police presence at Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg airports has been bolstered by building police stations at the airports.

Acsa selected Group 4 Securicor to provide security at Johannesburg International.

Group 4 Securicor, which started its five-year tenure this week, replaces Springbok Khulani and Enlightened Security.

Makgale said the nonrenewal of the contracts of both Springbok Khulani and Enlightened Security Force was not linked to the armed robbery. He said the two events were coincidental.

[Business Day (South Africa) -- 04/06/06]