Joburg's rich under siege

Mugged in your driveway: Joburg's rich under siege

But police say these robberies are not linked — and deny Rolex gang exists
At least four gangs are terrorising Johannesburg's wealthiest residents
— stripping them of their valuable jewellery and, in some cases, their
cars — in crimes branded "followed-home robberies". The gangs are slick:
the members dress well, drive top-of-the-range cars and even wear
expensive jewellery to allow them to blend in with their surroundings.
They are professional, able to recognise designer jewellery and
accessories — and they select their victims at Johannesburg's most
exclusive malls. One of the four gangs believed to be behind a spate of
attacks on some of South Africa's most powerful businessmen in the past
year A gang is dubbed the "Rolex Gang" : three men and two women who
drive a blue Jeep Cherokee and take only expensive designer jewellery in
"driveway" armed robberies. Another gang follows a similar modus
operandi, but two others go further: one gang takes the car; the other
takes the car and loots the house, too. The second gang operates in the
same manner, also taking only jewellery; The third gang takes the car
too; and The fourth gang goes inside the house to take whatever they
can as well.
Jakes de Jager, head of investigations at security company Core, said
the gangs had been staging "followed-home robberies" for two years.
He said it was believed that victims were identified at shopping centres
and followed until they reached home, where the gangs pounced. Conroy
Roberts of Top Security said the gangs targeted mostly shopping malls in
the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, including Hyde Park, Sandton and
Dunkeld West, where shops cater for affluent customers. He said the
members of the gangs were not ordinary criminals, but experts who could
identify valuable jewellery.
The security experts said the gangs drove luxury cars such as a BMW, the
Jeep Cherokee and a VW Touareg.
Since June last year, there have been at least nine incidents where
high-profile people were involved in robberies bearing the hallmarks of
a Rolex gang attack. Celebrity lawyer Billy Gundelfinger and his family
were beaten and robbed in their Sandhurst driveway in February, just
minutes after their neighbours suffered the same ordeal and, in July
last year, Discovery Holdings boss Adrian Gore and his family were
targeted twice within a few days. Official police statistics for Gauteng
show that robberies with aggravating circumstances were down by about
5000 in 2008, but in the Sandton police precinct — which includes some
of South Africa' s wealthiest suburbs — they increased by 5%. And
robberies at homes in this precinct increased from 343 in 2007 to 404 in
2008, although home robbery figures were down in the province. Admitting
that there had been a few "isolated" cases, Gauteng provincial police
spokesman Superintendent Eugene Opperman denied that specific gangs
carried out the robberies. Opperman said police crime intelligence had
found no "hard and fast" evidence that gangs were responsible for the
terror sprees. "You do get normal robbers that go around and steal
jewellery. We have not come across evidence to say there is a Rolex
gang," he said.
The way victims are chosen: The gangs pick out their victims at coffee
shops or grocery stores at shopping malls around the city, including
Rosebank, Sandton City, Melrose Arch, Hyde Park and Benmore Gardens.
Victims are usually identified by a "spotter" or "big guy". Apart from
identifying the victims from their jewellery, spotters also check their
shopping baskets. Ice-cream, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables indicate
that victims are more likely to go straight home. The gang then track
the victims home. "Once they identify a target, they will stick to that
target, " said Jakes de Jager, Core's head of investigations. Often
there is a second vehicle outside the house as back-up. — Karen van
Rooyen and Chandré Prince
How the gangs blend in and what they take: They are very professional,
resourceful, well trained and organised. The suspects are usually well
dressed, carry licensed firearms in case they are stopped, and drive
Audi Q7 s and BMW X5 s to blend into wealthy areas. "They wear Rolexes
and they may have legitimate connections," said Jakes de Jager, head of
investigations at Core. ) They identify their victims in two ways:
either by spotting them driving around the city or while waiting at
shopping centres. De Jager said they generally targeted women driving
alone but did not exclude men. The original Rolex gang, consisting of
three men and two women, used a blue Jeep Cherokee and took only
expensive designer jewellery in driveway armed robberies. A second gang
operates in the same manner, taking only jewellery, while a third gang
takes the car as well. The fourth gang goes inside the house and takes
whatever they can. De Jager said the gangs were generally made up of
four men: one stays in the car, another holds open the gate, while the
other two are involved in the actual attack. He said the more
experienced gangs would not harm their victims, while the younger gangs
were "more aggressive".
Don't be a target. Always be on the lookout for suspicious-looking
characters or vehicles (especially with tinted windows); approaching
your driveway, look out for suspicious vehicles or persons, and speed
away from perceived danger; Be observant and alert, and check your
mirrors regularly; Avoid public displays of wealth; and report any
suspicious activity to police.


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