Businessman victim of cyber terrorist threats

2017-04-19 08:48
(File, Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(File, Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Johannesburg - The owner of a billion rand property company and his family have been the victims of a vicious multi-national cyber terrorism campaign.

Their lives were threatened and local shopping centres and schools became the target of bomb threats.

This was revealed in a damning affidavit by the owner of Century Property Development company, Mark Arthur Corbett, in an urgent application placed before the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Police it seemed, had swooped on the alleged perpetrators of the threats and through a search-and-seizure warrant had removed electronic devices such as cellphones, cameras, USB devices, memory cards, tablets, and computers.

Corbett put the application before the court for mirror image forensic copies to be made from the goods police seized from three people listed as respondents in the application.

Corbett wants an interdict and damages following a harrowing year of threats against his family.

Death, bomb threats

Century Properties was started in 2002 and has an annual turnover exceeding R1 billion. The company owns the Crowthorne, Carlswald, Bell Air, and Lonehill shopping centres. It is involved in lodges Tintswalo at Waterfall, Tintswalo at Manyeleti, Tintswalo Atlantic, and in the Crawford and Reddam schools. 

Corbett said in his affidavit that he, his family, employees, business partners and anyone connected to him in some way began receiving threatening emails from different, untraceable Gmail accounts. Aside from death threats, bomb threats were directed at his company’s malls and lodges.  

On December 6, 2016, the attacks became physical, Corbett said. Unidentified men pulled over an au pair his sister employed and told her she and her employer’s whole family would die.

Corbett said the loss to his businesses was enormous. Every time a mall received a bomb threat, they had to be evacuated and shops closed, causing damages worth billions.

Even the sporting events he was associated with were affected. A bomb threat was directed at the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, which was also associated with Century. The organisers had to take extra precautions.

Reddam schools were placed on high alert due to the threats, Corbett said. International investors put future projects to the value of R600 million on hold and did not want to invest in South Africa.

The personal damage to his family was far greater.  

“Because of the threats my wife and I withdrew our children (aged 5, 7 and 9 respectively) from school since October 2016 to the end of the school year, as we could not sufficiently protect them or the other children at their school, who might also be endangered if they continue to go to school. We have had to explain the situation to our children, that there are people out there who are bent on harming our family.”

In one case unidentified people filmed their children from outside their school. Threats were emailed to the school.

“My sister has been sent a photo of herself with her eyes cut out and blood running down her face,” he said.  

Threats traced to the Philippines 

They placed security guards at their house and installed high electric fences. One communication seemed to suggest Corbett had to wear a bulletproof vest.  

He said he went through severe mental and emotional pain because he could not trust or get close to anyone in case they were the enemy or were passing on information to his enemies.

They asked Professor Cecil Petrus Louwrens to investigate the threats, but this proved difficult. They traced the bomb threats to a domain originating in the Philippines. They used prepaid sim cards from the Philippines to roam in South Africa.

Corbett said the perpetrators were sophisticated, hid their identity and changing their modus operandi often.

One of the threats came from the email address tinswalopropertygroup@gmail.com. Corbett said he emailed back one day in a desperate attempt to get the threats to stop. A man using the pseudonym John Wayne replied.

He said he was up for sale and would stop if given money. John Wayne said there was a contract for $50 000 of which $15 000 had been paid. They would stop if Corbett paid the balance. He paid the money into a bank account in the Philippines.

John Wayne said they would reveal who had hired him and he sent on the name of the person cited as the second respondent in the court papers.

Corbett was sent Facebook and WhatsApp correspondence, allegedly between the respondent and John Wayne, where Wayne was asked to destroy Corbett and to send bomb threats.

According to a plan, family members would be shot or abducted on February 17, 2017.

Land dispute

Corbett was given the logins for these accounts and started communicating with the respondent. At first he was not sure who he was speaking to, but as time went on he said he became certain it was the respondent using the Facebook profile.

The last message sent was one where the respondent instructed John Wayne to shoot either Corbett’s parents or his wife and “if they die so much the better”. They said they wanted Corbett shot and a real bomb planted in two of the shopping centres.

Another message states that Corbett’s children must be given Easter eggs as it will be their last Easter.

Corbett said he had business dealings with the two respondents. The threats seemed to originate from a personal vendetta over land worth R140 million purchased from the respondents’ company in order to build a private school. This led to a dispute and arbitration.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said they opposed the urgent application which they felt would cripple the efforts police had made.

The State agreed to hand mirror-image forensic copies of all the data on the devices found during the investigation, to all the parties to the case, including Century City.

The case was postponed to May 16. 

* Do you have information for our investigative journalists? Send an email to tips@24.com

Read more on:    philippines  |  johannesburg  |  crime  |  security  |  cyber attacks

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