A former prison warder was ready to sell keys that could open any door in the country's prisons - but little did he realise that his "clients" were undercover cops.
The officers had struck a R700000 deal to buy the master keys but then bust the suspect, Ivan Pillay, when he met them at the East Rand Mall.
Pillay, who had worked in the locksmith section at Boksburg prison four years ago, appeared in the Boksburg magistrate's court yesterday on charges of theft and defeating the ends of justice.
He was released on R1000 bail. The case was remanded to next week.
A source told Sowetan that the keys went missing in 2005 and that Pillay had always been the prime suspect.
The source said: "The keys can open all the doors and passages in any South African prison.
The Department of Correctional Services investigated him but then he resigned.
"There are many dangerous criminals in our prisons. What would this country have come to had the keys landed in their hands?"
Police spokesperson Inspector Sanku Tsunke said: "He allegedly arranged to sell the keys and the police followed up on the information. The suspect was arrested by undercover police while negotiating a price for the keys.
"Two master keys which were used to open prison cells and one key for passages were found in his possession."
Cope's correctional services spokesperson Dennis Bloem said: "This was a very dangerous situation.
"The keys went missing in 2005 and it is only now that someone is arrested."