CAPE TOWN. – The biggest bank robbery in South African history is heading for the Johannesburg High Court as sixty victims of the robberies have issued summons against First National Bank (FNB) for R121 million as FNB did not implement adequate security measures prior to the robberies and would not accede to the reasonable settlement claims of the victims.
In September 2015, thieves broke into the FNB Sunnypark branch and made off with Kruger rands, jewellery and cash. The value is unknown, but at least R7 million worth of valuables were stolen from the safety deposit boxes.
Between Christmas and New Year in 2016, there were two bank robberies in Johannesburg at the Randburg and Parktown branches of FNB.
The robbers were well organised and meticulously planned the robberies. For example, the robbers gained access to the Randburg branch by cutting a hole through the floor of the men’s toilets which had no security cameras installed and also stole the bank’s CCTV-security cameras so that they could not be identified.
In Randburg, 360 safety deposit boxes valued at over R200 million were stolen.
Trudie Broekmann Attorneys act on behalf of sixty clients who rented safety deposit boxes from FNB, which were stolen during the robberies.
FNB is relying on the fine print in its contracts which states that it would not be legally responsible under any circumstances for loss or damage that may occur to the contents of the safety deposit boxes.
“That undermines the entire object of storing valuables at a bank. We are nevertheless confident that the exclusion clause is not legally enforceable against our clients,” said Trudie Broekmann, proprietor of the Cape Town-based law firm.
A banking security consultant assisting the victims stated that FNB’s security system was ineffective and inadequate.
Evidence has also emerged of cooperation between employees of FNB and the robbers. Video evidence from the security cameras in Parktown clearly shows that the FNB employee who was supposed to lock the vault containing the safety deposit boxes on the evening before the robbery, simply closed the vault without locking it. At the Sunnypark branch there was evidence that a security official of FNB deactivated many of the alarm zones just prior to the robbery.
These examples point to cooperation between FNB employees and the robbers.
Priceless family heirlooms, Kruger Rands and jewellery were lost in the theft of the safety deposit boxes.
Just days after the Randburg and Parktown robberies the empty safety deposit boxes were found close to the FNB soccer stadium in Nasrec.
Two consumer protection laws make FNB liable if they have acted negligently, the Consumer Protection Act and the Financial Institutions (Protection of Funds) Act.
Section 51 of the Consumer Protection Act provides that a supplier of services cannot exclude liability for gross negligence.
The Financial Institutions (Protection of Funds) Act regulates trust property like the victims’ possessions that were kept in the safety deposit box. In terms of this Act it is incumbent upon FNB to observe the utmost of good faith and exercise care and diligence in the exercise or discharge of its powers and duties.
This makes the clause in FNB’s contract excluding its liability, invalid.
At Randburg there was concern that the security of the branch was insufficient relative to the value of the goods and the number of safety deposit boxes held at the branch, including those that were subsequently moved to the branch, according to the consultant.
The bank centralised its safety deposit service, so that safety deposit boxes to the value of over R200 million were stored at one branch, but the security measures in place were inadequate to protect against the attention that the valuable contents of these boxes would attract from robbers.
A simple example of FNB’s lack of security savvy is that the CCTV-system was not monitored at an independent security centre. “A bank with so much monetary value required several layers of security to protect it and these levels of security were not present.”
According to Broekmann, the front security gate at the Randburg branch was broken and is left lying to the side of the entrance. And the two security personnel who guarded the bank, were not equipped with a panic button in case of an attack.
The robbers could drive right into the building and then cut a hole through the floor of the men’s toilet which was not equipped with alarm sensors.
The standard alarm protocol was also not followed. Once the alarm was activated Chubb was supposed to send personnel to meet a representative of FNB to inspect the branch, but apparently this did not happen.
The robbers used at least one three-ton truck to escape with the safety deposit boxes – which implies that the robbers knew beforehand how many safety deposit boxes there were.
The robbers required an estimated six hours to gain access to the vault.
After the robbery, First National Bank appointed assessors to encourage victims to complete a claim form listing the items that were stolen from their safety deposit boxes and as a result of that, some victims settled with the bank.
“Our sixty clients did not receive a reasonable offer from the bank and this is why we issued the summons,” Broekmann said.
Adam Moosajee, legal representative of the bank, could not be reached for comment or reaction.
Press statement issued by Fanie Heyns on behalf of Trudie Broekmann Attorneys. For more information, contact Heyns on 021-4345237 or Broekmann on 021-4220269.