Brazen burglars steal while ministers sleep

August 07 2003 at 05:38AM

By Graeme Hosken

Burglars ransacked the homes of cabinet ministers as they lay sleeping in their supposedly high-security compound, raising serious questions about how well protected they are.
Computers, cameras and other valuables were taken from the homes of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Education Minister Kader Asmal and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad.

The security breach occurred this week at Bryntirion, the government's residential compound in the heart of Pretoria. It is used by ministers and government officials. It follows a spate of burglaries at Acacia Park, a supposedly secure parliamentary village in Cape Town, which has a high perimeter fence and spotlights, and is guarded by police 24 hours a day.

'Both ministers were asleep at the time' According to well-placed sources, the thieves are believed to have entered the Bryntirion estate by slipping past dozens of VIP Protection Unit policemen, who are supposed to guard the complex and the ministers. Once on the property, they made their way to the politicians' homes, breaking into them while the ministers were asleep. Manuel and Asmal share a house, as they do not move between Pretoria and Cape Town with their families, while Pahad lives in an adjoining house.

Tuesday's break-in was confirmed by the ministers' offices. High-ranking police communications officers initially denied the incident, saying reports of a break-in were "utter rubbish". 'An inventory is being compiled to determine exactly what was taken' However, when confronted with confirmation from the ministers, police spokesperson Superintendent Selby Bokaba later said he could not comment on the events. Manuel's spokesperson, Logan Wort, said: "Both ministers were asleep at the time and fortunately did not wake up while the thieves were wandering around their homes." He said the burglars stole Manuel's laptop computer, which contained personal and business documents but no classified information, a camera and various smaller valuables.

"Other items taken included crockery and cutlery and other household items. The items taken in the break-in were situated in various rooms in the house," he said. Wort refused to be drawn on security at the compound or to say who had access to the ministers' houses.

Molatwane Likhetle, spokesperson for Asmal, also confirmed the incident, but said he was still unsure of what had been taken. "An inventory is being compiled to determine exactly what was taken," he said. A spokesperson for Pahad could not be reached at the time of going to press.

Police investigating the break-in said investigations were at an extremely sensitive stage. "Although no arrests have been made, we are hopeful that we will make a breakthrough soon," said an investigating officer speaking on condition of anonymity.

Anyone with information on the housebreakings or the identity of the culprits can contact Captain Phil Murudi of the Sunnyside Detective Branch on 012 422 3600 or CrimeStop on 08600 10111.

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on August 07, 2003

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