Some say the money was spirited out of the stadium in the wheel well of a car. There’s a story that goes that the cash was hidden in the walls of the maintenance manager’s house in Witpoortjie. A psychic even claimed that the notes were buried under a tree in a garden somewhere. The rational suggestion is that the loot disappeared over the border, never to be seen again.
Exactly four years later and investigators are still baffled by what happened to the millions in cash stolen in an audacious heist at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg in the hours following a Justin Bieber concert there in May 2013.
As the Canadian popstar is set to return to the stage at the Soweto stadium this weekend, there is renewed interest in revisiting what has essentially become a cold case. A veil of silence had been thrown over the investigation but now the man who was contracted to head up security for the promoters – Big Concerts – is now speaking out about the investigation. Marcus Ferguson has also revealed his confidential report detailing what happened on 13 May 2013 and in the days that followed.
It reads like the narrative of a great crime mystery or a scene out of an Oceans 11 movie script…
It was set to be a bumper weekend for Big Concerts. Rock group Bon Jovi had played the FNB Stadium on the Saturday night and in a first-ever, Justin Bieber played back-to-back on the Sunday. All the cash takings from the concession stands at both concerts were stored in a safe room in a cavity in the parking lot in the heart of the calabash. Not many people knew about the existence of the safe room – it had been used as an office previously and was really just a normal room with double bricked walls, alongside a bathroom, with a safe door.
According to the card reader, Foena Nel, who was in charge of concessions for Big Concerts, swiped her card to access the room on Monday morning at 08:11am. Officially, it was Nel who discovered the money had been stolen. At approximately 08:45am, Nel advised the on-site security manager that there had been a break-in at the cash office. Investigators would later raise concerns about why there had been a 35-minute delay but nothing would come of this. Nel’s card was swiped again at 08:52am.
She confirmed that she had left the stadium the night before after the concert at around 23:30pm. The keys for the cash boxes were left on the table in the safe room. A paramedic, who was in a room nearby the entire night, told cops he didn’t hear a thing and had no idea about the break-in.
Booysens Police Station officers arrived on the scene, closed off the site and put up barrier tape. The venue was placed on lock down. Everyone going in or out had to be searched. Detectives soon arrived. So too did stadium officials, the promoters and a variety of other security people. They each walked through the safe room, potentially destroying any clues that may have been left behind.
By sheer coincidence, I had spent the week prior to the concerts investigating and reporting on security at the stadium. Within a couple of the hours, I received an anonymous tip-off about the heist and scrambled to the stadium. To my surprise, the chief executive of Stadium Management South Africa, Jacques Grobbelaar, generously allowed myself and a videographer onto the crime scene and gave us a guided tour of the break-in. Hence it does not surprise me at all that Ferguson suggests the scene was not properly contained.
Big Concerts’ own investigative team, led by Ferguson, began to run a parallel probe working in cooperation with the police.
An investigator was dispatched to the CCTV room to review the footage and gather leads. However, the two cameras trained on the safe room had not been working for two months. An interview process was conducted with all staff; they worked out how many people were on the site and who could have carried out the robbery. They narrowed it down to 100 individuals. Persons of interest were isolated and polygraphs carried out.
They also began to closely scrutinise the crime scene.
There was red sand in front of the outer access door and the ceiling panels were damaged. In the kitchen area where the roof had been removed, there was debris, bricks, plaster and more red sand. There was a ladder in the passageway marked SMSA (Stadium Management South Africa) and investigators would spend the greater part of the day tracing its origins and examining it for fingerprints only for it to be revealed that it had been placed there in the morning by first responders. It was an entire waste of crucial investigating time.
The inner door lock had been jimmied and appeared to have been broken open. Black cash boxes were lying strewn open in the safe and there was plaster on the floor. Ceiling panels had been tampered with and lintels removed. A footprint, resembling a work boot was discovered and substantiated this theory. The robbers had left behind the ropes hanging into the room and some small change but little else.
Investigators surmised that just hours after Bieber stepped off the stage and his fans streamed out the 90,000-seat stadium, the gang chiseled through a ceiling, negotiated a massive drop head first down to their loot below where they broke open the cash boxes. They would have had to know where they were going and what they were looking for. It had to be an inside job.
The next day, Tuesday 15 May, as “stress tests” were being conducted on 35 persons of interest, the tip-offs began to come in. A reward for information had been advertised and inevitably this would lead to some wild goose chases that carried with them the potential promise of a breakthrough.
At around 10am, Jacques Grobbelaar received an SMS that read: “Here’s a name of one of the guys who were involved in the vault robbery. Kingpin is xxxxx aka xxxx xxxxx.” Nine further messages came through from the informant. He had apparently been contacted by a guy in C-Max prison in Kokstad who had heard about the heist and had provided radio jamming equipment and water drilling devices. He also provided further names and addresses of those who were involved. (EWN has chosen not to disclose these).
Later on the Tuesday, an internal tip from a stadium contractor came in to say that a man linked to a similar robbery at another stadium had been seen on site during the Bon Jovi concert. This also amounted to nothing.
Ferguson’s report details all of these tip-offs and how the investigation progressed during that week in May.
Investigators were confident that they were chasing “hot leads” only to be left deflated and disappointed. The reward was bumped up in the hope it would bring fresh information. A high-ranking general was pulled in on request of Big Concerts to guide the probe. Secondary polygraph tests were done on those who failed the initial stress tests and searches remained in place at the outer perimeter of the stadium.
At the end of his report, Ferguson makes a number of conclusions about what may have occurred.
We believe the lintels at the outer door were removed prior to the night and that the hole made into the safe room was carried out prior to the night of the crime. We also believe that the hole was made strategically above the eye line behind the AC duct, so that any damages caused would not been seen, as it was relatively hidden.
We believe it is physically impossible to have entered through the hole created in the top of the wall as there is no way to enter feet first but head first, with nowhere to turn so as to come down feet first, this would in all likelihood have caused the person entering to fall the 4m to the floor head first. [T]he foot prints up the wall (to the hole in the wall) start above the office security gate and not from ground level and were in all [likelihood] created after the fact to give the idea that this was the point of entry and exit (we feel the security gate was open at the time of the prints going onto the wall).
There were no signs of forced entry into the outer office door. We believe the bricks at the hole to the cash office had been removed over a period of time. The entire cash office is a solid wall, so they had to enter and leave via the basement outer door area, there is no other way to gain access according to our investigation.
Ferguson goes on to raise questions about the security at the facility and just how ineffective it was.
All master cards seem to work all over the building, there is no integrity in the card reader system.
Maintenance staff are able, when required, to make or remove cards when they want in their 24/7 office. Foena’s card works on the VOC reader for instance and security cards work on the safe outer door and all staff members could and do have more than 1 card.
The master keys are also a huge problem, as many of these keys are issued and the master key was tested on the safe outer door and unlocked the door. (There are no key control procedures in place, all keys should be in key safes, the keys for the key safes should be under responsible persons control).
At the end of that week in May, as news of the missing Bieber millions reached all corners of the world, investigators were left with far more questions than answers. Over the next few weeks, they would chase down dead ends and hollow conspiracy theories. All that would remain would be a cold case and an enduring mystery.
It’s four years later, almost to the day, and Marcus Ferguson is sitting across from me ready to reveal all the behind the scenes twists and turns of the search for the missing Bieber millions. He no longer does work for Big Concerts and has parted ways with his business partner Mike Lord. Now he does security for high-rise buildings in Hillbrow. He’s a hardened security man, experienced and knowledgeable. He speaks in a dry, military staccato. Officious and matter of fact. He calls me ma’am repeatedly as he holds his faded grey Olmeca Tequila hat in his hand.
With the benefit of hindsight, Ferguson now has clarity on what he believes happened in that hidden strongroom in the parking lot in the bowels of the FNB Stadium. It was all a ruse.
“To me, those footprints were put there (on the wall) to throw a red herring on the scene. I think they had keys and they walked through the doors. The office door that had been broken probably was broken because they wanted to make it look like it.”
He has no doubt that someone with inside information was responsible.
“It was the first concerts that we had going back-to-back. So you’ve got Bon Jovi crowd going out. You’ve got Bieber’s crowd on scene. All that movement and it was a lot of admin from our side keeping them separate. We’d never done that before. A double concert had just never been heard of,” he explains.
“It had to be an inside job. For them to remove the amount of bricks they removed, to remove the lintels, that door leading into the room had a key card. You actually swipe the card. We interrogated that lock completely. We had the last people to go in and there’s no ways that people could have gone in there without the key card,” says Ferguson.
He reveals that there was a prime suspect – a maintenance manager at the stadium (whose name is known to EWN). He was never arrested and has since died. Ferguson points out that it was the maintenance department that was responsible for supplying access cards for the security system.
“The security system itself all went back to the maintenance office. That’s where the cards were made so it’s like the wolf looking after the chicken run. Somewhere along the line it doesn’t make sense. They are the guys implicated in this whole thing. The maintenance [team was] working in that area and yet they are the guys who issue the cards. Next minute we start finding guys with three or four cards. It was a huge nightmare. So one card issued to a guy as a master card could open anything in the stadium. And that’s where the integrity of that system was questioned. So I lose my card, I just go and make another one. There was no recourse.”
Ferguson says at one point, together with the police, they secured a search warrant for the man’s house in Witpoortjie, near Ontdekkers Road, on Johannesburg’s West Rand.
“We were tipped off that there would be new bricks somewhere, that there’s a false wall. So we went through his whole house. We needed to get into the roof and he disappeared next door and came back with a ladder. It wasn’t like ‘Let me ask my neighbour’, he just went there. So it’s also hanging in the air whose house that was. It’s a big question mark. Were we at the wrong premises? We don’t know. We never had a second dig at that. We went into the house, we were knocking on the doors, he was following us. You could see he was visibly upset about us coming into his house. There was nothing there. Gut feel now, on hindsight, we were probably at the wrong house. The house next door was probably the house where we should have been. The information we had was that it was behind a false wall. Information then came out that it was buried in the garden under a tree…” he trails off. Another dead end.
What about the legend that the loot went out in the wheel well of a car?
“We tried to follow that up as well and nothing came of that,” sighs Ferguson. “There was a car that went out and it had a spare wheel and the money was in the wheel well. We tried to follow up on that. No cameras were working in that area so we couldn’t pick up on any camera footage. That became hearsay more than anything else. We then picked up that there was a psychic in Cape Town who was giving this information, which made the police involved pretty skeptical about the information and whether it was reliable or not.”
Mystery stills surrounds just how much money was stolen. It was all the takings from the bars at Bon Jovi and Bieber – no alcohol was sold at the Bieber concert but there was still plenty of hysterical tweens buying food and cooldrinks.
“There’s various figures thrown around. It could be anything over three bar (R3 million),” suggests the security man.
I wonder what R3 million in cash would look like and if it would fit in the wheel well of a car.
“I reckon it will fill the table. When you hear the stories you try and put that together and ask if it’s feasible for that to happen like that. Yes and no. It could have been in the back seat.” Ferguson has clearly applied his mind to every conceivable possibility here.
One of the biggest problems with the investigation was how the primary crime scene was compromised. Ferguson still laments this.
“The first guys who came in were your station guys. They probably should never have gone into the crime scene. They should have let the detectives arrive who know what they’re doing. You had security traipsing through there. I don’t know how many of them were traipsing through before we got there. For every person that goes through there, it’s contaminating the scene even more. Then the Hawks get involved two days later. The trail is cold. Someone specialised should have been involved right from the beginning. It was just badly handled.”
After the search of the maintenance manager’s home, the trail really did go cold and now the docket is sitting idle on the desk of a Hawk. Gauteng police confirm that no arrests were ever made and assure me that the case is still open. But in reality, I’m told by those who know that there is no active investigation ongoing.
“They just said ‘manne, until something positive comes through you know…’ we were running around on the whim of a psychic in Cape Town. It was just dead cold. It came to an end.”
Big Concerts seems to have buried the break-in and moved on. The company doesn’t want to comment on the investigation and are rather focusing on the upcoming Justin Bieber concert set to take place this weekend. Justin van Wyk tells me that they’re busy with planning meetings, they haven’t commented in some time and want to leave it at that. He has bigger problems to worry about right now, like a crippled rand-dollar exchange rate and the associated challenges of bringing big name acts into the country.
Stadium Management South Africa’s Jacques Grobbelaar also doesn’t want to bring up the past and says he’s leaving the investigation to the police. There has always been a relative grey area around who was responsible for the security of the safe room between Big Concerts and Stadium Management South Africa and the two are clearly reluctant to point fingers at one another as they continue to enjoy a close working relationship. Technically, Big Concerts would have taken control of the stadium for the short-term period of the lease in much the same way a house or flat would be let out. They would have had exclusive use of certain areas, such as the safe room. This would have meant no entry to third parties, including stadium staff and Big Concerts would have held ultimate responsibility for safety and security at the venue.
SMSA has made considerable efforts to tighten up security post the incident. They’ve since secured the advisory services of the man who pretty much wrote the rule book on stadium safety and security, Patrick Ronan of IRM. Ronan was literally the architect of government’s Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act and is a veteran of over 150 major international sporting and recreational events including the cricket and soccer World Cups hosted in South Africa.
“Based on my personal observations at Big Concert hosted major concerts at FNB Stadium since the last Justin Bieber concert, BC have taken a number of reasonable and appropriate steps with the assistance and in consultation with SMSA and the SAPS in order to mitigate the risks of a similar major crime incident occurring at one of its concerts again,” Ronan assures me.
“This includes, but is not limited to, the deployment of enhanced and very well secured cash management procedures in order to materially attenuate the risk of such an incident occurring again. Public safety is high on the agenda of Big Concerts.”
One of the key changes that have been made, is that cash is no longer stored on site after a major event. It immediately gets removed in an armoured cash vehicle and becomes the responsibility of the bank concerned. It’s unclear why this was not done following the Bon Jovi and Bieber concerts and Ferguson can’t explain why Big Concerts did not make this arrangement. It seems that everyone has learnt their lesson.
For Ferguson, the mystery of the missing millions still eats away at him and his military precision of getting to the bottom of a case.
“Obviously I would have liked to have seen it come to a head and caught someone. I would have loved to have seen that. The story goes that he’s buried the money and now that he’s passed away no one knows where it is. That’s the last I’ve heard and it’s quite possible.”
By Mandy Wiener.