Minister liable for R94m robbed from SBV by cops

Police Minister Bheki Cele. Picture: Jacques Naude / Independent Newspapers

Police Minister Bheki Cele. Picture: Jacques Naude / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 19, 2024


Following a cash heist nearly a decade ago, involving two police officers, police minister Bheki Cele’s office will now have to fork out nearly R94-million to cover the losses incurred.

The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, found the minister to be vicariously liable for the conduct of the two officers. This was based on a previous Constitutional Court judgment where it was held that when intentional criminal deviant conduct of the police is closely connected to the minister's business, he may be held vicariously liable in a delictual claim for damages.

Now former police officers, Lekele Rekson Lekola and Tamsanqa Gladstone Khubeka, were among a group who during the late evening of April 27, 2014, participated in a well planned robbery at the Witbank premises of the company known as SBV.

SBV among others, takes custody of cash on behalf of clients in the banking sector by providing secure cash handling, safekeeping, transport and related services to its clients in terms of service contracts with all the major banks.

The Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, who are now claiming the money back from the SAPS, at the time of the robbery undertook to indemnify SBV for losses of cash under the latter’s control.

The robbers broke into SBV’s premises and stole R101 207 456.28 in cash which had been secured in a vault by SBV on behalf of all its banking clients. This included cash deposited by the banks’ retail customers.

At the time the then detective constable Khubeka and warrant officer Lekola were attached to the SAPS Trio Unit at the Witbank Police Station. This unit was specially established to investigate, prevent and combat hijacking, murder and robbery in the Witbank area.

Lloyd’s of London said in their application that the pair participated in the planning, directing and executing the robbery, and in preventing the detection and proper investigation of the robbery. They also prevented and frustrated all attempts to recover the stolen cash. Thus, it reasoned, the minister was to be held responsible for their conduct.

The pair were, alongside their co-accused, sentenced to 20 year imprisonment in 2018.

The court heard at the time that the robbers had introduced themselves as members of the SBV head office who wanted to question employees at the premises. As soon as the premises were opened, they overpowered the employees.

They used a specialised industrial drill to get into the safe from which they stole an amount of R104 440 845.60. About R6-m was recovered.

Lloyd’s argued that the minister was vicariously liable to each of SBV's clients who suffered losses due to the robbery.

The minister, on the other hand, argued that his office was not liable as Khubeka and Lekola acted on a frolic of their own when they participated in the robbery.

Counsel acting for the minister admitted that both Khubeka and Lekola were on duty during and after the robbery.

Judge Natvarlal Ranchod found that the service agreements expressly rendered SBV liable for the loss for any reason, including liability at common law.

During the trial, the plaintiff (Lloyd’s) led evidence which showed that Nedbank, as the host bank, was the owner of all the cash in the SBV depot.

Nedbank was the party that suffered the Ioss and SBV indemnified Nedbank only, not the other banks. SBV was strictly liable to Nedbank for the loss that the latter suffered in the robbery.

It was for this reason that Nedbank settled the claims of the other banks and the retail clients for all the deposits that were stolen.

Judge Ranchod concluded that based on the service level agreement in place, and the minister being vicariously liable for the conduct of the SAPS officers, the office of the minister had to pay Lloyd’s a sum of R93,919,298.47.

This was for the cash which was never recovered.

Pretoria News

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