High-level Collusion Aids Airport Heist in S. Africa

March 31, 2006
Collusion from staff of airport, airline allowed for armed robbers to strike cash-rich 747

CAPE TOWN - There was little doubt that the $16,5m robbery at Johannesburg International Airport on Saturday was the result of collusion by staff at the highest level within both the Airports Company SA (Acsa) and South African Airways (SAA), Acsa CEO Monhla Hlahla said yesterday.

An armed gang of robbers took canvas bags containing cash as they were being off-loaded from an SAA Boeing 747 aircraft parked on the apron.

The aircraft had arrived from Britain and was destined for Tanzania and another, undisclosed, African country.

The police had informed Acsa that they had made significant progress in their investigations and that several people had been taken in for questioning, an Acsa spokesman said last night.

Hlahla told Parliament's transport portfolio committee that police were not looking too far.

I am very, very confident that this was the result of collusion between people who knew our systems and procedures very well.

One thing we have learnt over a period of five years is that the biggest weakness in our system is collusion. It is not our security infrastructure, Hlahla said. People within the operation of the airport are coming together to undermine security. She told the media that new security contracts had been issued with the old ones terminating at the end of this month.

One of the repercussions of the heist was that the national aviation security committee was discussing how to improve security regulations at airports without this jeopardising the economic activities that take place there, Hlahla said.

A key question would be the deployment of people at critical posts at the airports, she said.

Hlahla said airport security was part of national security, and one option being examined was for key staff to undergo high-level security checks before being employed. On Monday the South African Chamber of Business called on Acsa, SAA and the police to ensure that the chances of another airport robbery were minimised.

Meanwhile, Acsa director Brooks Mparutsa said the company projected revenue of R2,5bn in the 2006-07 financial year, up from R2bn in 2005-06. Capital expenditure would amount to R1,6bn, about R300m more than the 2004 projections for exactly the same projects because of the rapid escalation of construction costs. Hlahla said an attempt was being made to lock construction firms into contracts soon.

[Business Day (South Africa) -- 03/30/06]