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South Africa: Supreme Court revisits cargo theft and liability

1 September 2022
– 2 Minute Read


The facts of this case illustrated an all too familiar pattern of cargo theft. The claimant, Fujitsu, imported a consignment of laptops and accessories valued at USD 516 887 from its affiliate company in Germany. Fujitsu engaged the services of Schenker to assist with the logistics, freight forwarding, warehousing and clearing of the consignment. This led to Schenker receiving the goods from the carrier and delivering it by road to Fujitsu, after having attended to the necessary customs clearance and other logistical issues.

Once the goods arrived in storage at the South African Airways cargo warehouse and were ready to be delivered to Fujitsu, Schenker issued its drawing clerk, Wilfred Lerama, the necessary documentation authorising him to collect and deliver the cargo. On 23 June 2012, Lerama arrived at the storage warehouse to collect the laptops ostensibly on behalf of Schenker and Fujitsu. The goods were loaded onto his truck, which was not marked with Schenker branding, and he thereafter drove off, never to be seen again.

Like all Schenker’s drawing clerks, Lerama had been issued with an identity card which allowed him almost unfettered access to the airport cargo terminal, its warehouses and storage facilities. The warehouse cargo personnel knew that Lerama was one of Schenker’s drawers and on the day in question they did not suspect that he was there for any unlawful business. The High Court found that, on the probabilities, Lerama had carefully planned and orchestrated the theft with one or more co-conspirators.

Partner Jeremy Prain wrote an article on this decision for ILO.