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Shipping Firm's Leak Plugged 05/07/2001

It didn't take a lot of hi-tech equipment to catch an alleged "bugster" writes Barbara Cole

DURBAN de-bugging expert Mr Raymond van Staden has more than half a million rand of sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment - but he did not get to use any of it in his latest "bust".

In fact, all he needed to catch alleged bugsters this time were his own eyes.

And although he was prepared to carry out an undercover surveillance for up to three days in the hope of catching the suspects, all it took was an astonishing 90 minutes.

"A debugging expert's main aim is to catch a bugster in the act, and I could not believe my eyes when the alleged suspect turned up at a telephone box near my client's home in broad daylight," said van Staden.

"We find bugs all the time for clients, but it is not every day that we manage to arrest people.

Van Staden had been called in to investigate after a major Durban shipping company became concerned about information leaking out into the market place.

He carried out a sweep on the unnamed client's office, but failed to find any bugging equipment.

Under the Interception and Monitoring Prohibition Act of 1992, it is illegal to intercept a telephone conservation without the knowledge or permission of the person making the call. It is also illegal to bug a conversation to gather confidential information.

Only a judge can order an intercept if he suspects a serious offence has or will he committed or that the security of the country is threatened).

Commercial espionage is on the increase however, globally and in South Africa, and although the South African Interception Act is almost 10 years old, there have been no successful prosecutions. It carries stiff penalties: two years for bugging and three years for passing on information, as well as a R20 000 fine - or all three.

Generally, telephone bugsters use small specially adapted tape recorders with wires attached to the telephone lines, which switch on when the handset is picked up, van Staden said.

After failing to find a bug in his client's office, van Staden turned his attention to a telephone junction box near the client's home on Durban's Berea. He suspected that a monitoring devise - a micro tape recorder - might have been placed in the box on his client's private phone line.


Van Staden's client was prepared to pay for the Warner Beach-based van Staden to carry out a lengthy surveillance on the box, but was "over the moon" when he learned that two men had soon arrived at the scene and opened the Telkom box. Van Staden says he saw them crouching down in the box.

The investigator pounced and carried out a citizen's arrest, helped by SAPS Police Inspector Les Smith of the Flying Squad, who was called in by van Staden.

A special Telkom investigator also arrived to confirm that a mini recorder found in the tangle of wires was on the shipping boss's private line.

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