Johannesburg, Jun 2 (PTI) Thieves tunnelled through underground passageways and solid concrete at a liquor store in a major shopping centre in the city just before a controversial ban on the sale of alcohol during the 66-day coronavirus lockdown was lifted.
The thieves got away with 300,000 rand (about USD 18,000) worth of liquor, much of which had been put on shelves by the owners as they prepared for a rush on Monday morning, when sales were allowed to resume under relaxed rules of the lockdown.
Alcohol sales had been banned when South Africa entered a strict lockdown at the end of March this year.
With a number of robberies and break-ins at liquor stores across the country, the shops reinforced security outside their premises.
This was also the case at the latest break-in at the store, which belongs to national supermarket group Shoprite.
Even security patrols by the centre staff did not raise any concerns, as the gang bypassed the main entrances and got in by accessing electrical and stormwater drain tunnels underground to get under the store before cutting through the thick concrete floor to get in.
But the carefully-planned heist failed to take into account security cameras inside the store, which captured three men returning from the hole several times.
Store management believes they were passing out the loot, including expensive imported brands of a variety of liquor, to accomplices inside the tunnel.
But with their features clearly visible on the cameras, they were identified on CCTV cameras as having visited the centre 10 days earlier. A 50,000 rand reward has been announced to information leading to their arrest.
Stolen liquor had been sold on the black market for up to 10 times the normal price because of the lockdown prohibition.
Thousands of people queued for hours at liquor stores across the country on Monday after South Africa moved to level 3 of a five-level risk-adjusted lockdown strategy.
Liquor sales are now permitted from Mondays to Thursdays only.
Stores have also imposed quotas per customer to avoid people stockpiling products. PTI FH CK AMS AMS AMS