Thieves hit Interpol
Criminals have broken into Interpol offices in Pretoria, stealing five laptops containing potentially sensitive information, including lists of secret witnesses and details of investigations of international crime syndicates.
This has raised concerns that the information could land in the wrong hands, placing the lives of witnesses in danger and jeopardising current and future cases.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale confirmed the theft but said investigators had not yet established which computers were stolen, how many were private or state-owned and the data they carried.
The Times understands that one of the officers whose computer was stolen was involved in the extradition of George Louka from Cyprus to South Africa.
Louka goes on trial in January for allegedly murdering Teazer's boss Lolly Jackson in 2010.
There are fears that the theft of the data could also compromise high-profile investigations relating to the extradition of international criminal suspects, including Nigerian drug syndicates and organised Russian, Ukrainian and Chinese gangs.
The equipment was taken in two burglaries at the weekend. According to police sources, the first occurred on Saturday and the burglars returned on Sunday.
It is believed the thieves had access cards and key codes to the offices and used them to gain entry into the building and offices used by three colonels and two captains.
It is not known whether the cards were cloned.
The Times has learnt that on Monday police management ordered an internal investigation into the break-in.
Yesterday, the officers whose offices were broken into took a polygraph test to rule out their involvement.
Among the items stolen are five laptops, cameras and data storage devices. It is believed none of the computers had active security codes, allowing the thieves easy access to the data.
"There were other valuable items, including ammunition, which was left behind," a source said.
"In one of the offices, which was burgled twice, the thieves took a laptop and a tablet, but left another tablet and two R5 rifle magazines behind."
A policeman with knowledge of the internal investigation said the breach was a serious security compromise.
"Yes there are back-ups of all the data, but what does it help when this and other information is now in criminal hands?
"Not everyone is happy with the investigations that are being done... there are police on the payroll of criminals and these criminals would love to have this information," he said.
Makgale would not confirm that sensitive information had been compromised, saying: "You are assuming your information is correct. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We are busy with the investigation."
Gareth Newham, head of the Institute for Security Studies' governance, crime and justice division, said: "It is worrying. The police are governed by minimum-standards regulations... in terms of securing information, especially sensitive information, certain minimum standards have to be applied. These standards are usually set by intelligence agencies.
"If these computers that contain such information were stolen, it suggests that this might not necessarily have been an ordinary burglary. It could be something more serious and would mean that the standards that should have been in place were not."