Inside the R300m jewellery heist at Johann Rupert’s warehouse
Today the Sunday Times takes you inside the audacious heist that netted thieves R300m in jewellery belonging to South African billionaire Johann Rupert.
The nine-hour operation is being billed the biggest jewellery theft in SA’s history.
Instead of guns, the gang used hammers, chisels and angle grinders in a break-in worthy of its own Ocean’s 11 movie script. Not a shot was fired in the operation, which made light work of the supposedly impenetrable vault meant to safeguard Rupert’s stash of top-end watches.
None of the jewellery has been recovered, no arrests have been made, and those in the jewellery industry suspect the haul has already been shipped out of SA.
Ironically, the job – which began shortly before 10.30pm on Friday last week – took place just hours after the South African Jewellery Council e-mailed a warning to its members about an increase in attacks on jewellers.
Information the Sunday Times has obtained, including photographs, shows how meticulously the raid was planned.
It started off with the 15-member syndicate arriving at Ballywoods Office Park in Bryanston, Johannesburg, in a convoy escorted by a security vehicle.
The information points to the thieves knowing exactly how long the guards would take to respond to alarms that were triggered at 10.42pm when they drilled open the locks of the front door of RLG Africa’s offices.
RLG (Richemont Luxury Goods) is part of Rupert’s Richemont business group. Through Vendome Distributors, it supplies boutique jewellery stores with items such as diamond watches by Montblanc and Cartier, two of the brands owned by Richemont.
The thieves’ target was luxury watches, necklaces and earrings recently flown into SA. The jewellery had an estimated cost value of R50m and a retail value of R300m.
The heist began when the gang, driving an 8t Isuzu truck, two bakkies and a security van fitted with lights, stopped outside the office park’s boomed entrance.
An insider close to the investigation said two members of the convoy approached the Stallion Security guards manning the boom gate, pretending to ask for directions. They overpowered the guards and made them strip before tying them up in the guard hut.
While some gang members, now dressed in security guard uniforms, monitored the entrance, the rest entered the building.
First, they drilled open the entrance door locks and replaced them with what security sources said were identical locks – all in under 10 minutes. The timing was crucial, so that when a Fidelity ADT security guard arrived after the alarm was triggered, there would be no sign of forced entry.
The Fidelity ADT guard was met at the office park by the thugs pretending to be Stallion Security guards. Finding the building did not appear to have been breached, and with the door apparently still locked, the ADT guard left, satisfied all was in order.
CCTV images show that once the thieves were inside the building, they made their way to the basement and the vault.
Other investigation insiders said that, instead of breaking open the vault door, which was linked to an alarm, they concentrated on the double-brick wall, using sledgehammers and angle grinders to hack into the vault, which contained shelves packed with jewellery boxes.
A security source said CCTV footage shows the gang left nine hours later, with the truck and bakkies escorted by the “security van”.
“There is no rush or speeding off. They drive out calmly. They left behind some boxes with lower-value items. What they took was the high-end and unique items, such as watches, some of which we have been told sell for over R200,000 apiece,” said another security source.
“Because these watches and diamonds can be easily traced it is clear they were stolen on specific orders and will probably be shipped offshore,” he said.
“Some of these guys rocked up with guards’ uniforms. They all wore gloves and balaclavas. They knew exactly where to go, how many security guards were at the office park and that an alarm would be triggered – and that a security guard would respond and check the premises.”
He said it seemed the thieves had insight into the Fidelity ADT guard’s response times and procedures when checking the building.
“When the ADT guard arrived, he went to the building and inspected the doors and windows. Nothing untoward was seen to show a burglary in progress.
“The guard, operating under his company’s procedures, left a note for RLG Africa stating that their alarm had been activated but nothing could be found, and then left.”