Computer man’s 91 fraud charges

2008-02-12 00:00

A computer expert, Sipho Sthembiso Msomi (36) of Kempton Park, who faces a total of 91 fraud charges involving more than R20 million, was named during his bail application in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday as a key roleplayer in a massive syndicate that has been defrauding state departments in KwaZulu-Natal of vast sums of money over the past two-and-a-half years.

The court has heard that Msomi facilitated the theft of huge amounts of money by installing "spy software" on computers in government departments, which was used to access user identities and passwords of employees.

He is charged with defrauding the Education, Housing, Agriculture, Arts and Culture and Public Works departments as well as the SA Social Security Agency, which handles government grants.

Investigating officer Inspector Stephen Gouws of the SAPS commercial branch in Pietermaritzburg told magistrate Paul van Dongen that he fears that if Msomi is granted bail, he will be killed.

"The accused was assaulted severely and tortured by the syndicate already towards the end of 2005, beginning of 2006," Gouws testified.

Msomi was arrested previously on similar charges by the Scorpions and pleaded guilty in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court in June 2006. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended, largely because of an undertaking by Msomi that he would assist the Scorpions with further investigations into the activities of the syndicate. Instead, he disappeared without a trace, until his arrest in Ulundi in November last year.

He has another pending case in Pietermaritzburg, involving similar allegations, in which he is charged with a co-accused, Mduduzi Maxwell Mkhize (33) of Ulundi.

Gouws told Van Dongen that Msomi told him during a number of interviews that he feels that his life, as well as that of his family, is under threat.

"State witnesses as well as whistle blowers have already been murdered, allegedly by this syndicate."

Gouws added that the current investigation is still at a "crucial stage" and the police are being assisted by the director of Public Prosecutions.

Gouws said he does not feel Msomi could tamper with evidence if released on bail as the police have "most of it" in the form of computer programmes and computers. "The state is concerned for his safety, his being a flight risk and treating the administration of justice as a joke," said Gouws.

He said Msomi has been a member of the alleged crime syndicate for between two to three years. "We have arrested about 20 entity holders … recipients of the illegal money," he added. About 180 suspected syndicate members are still wanted.

Gouws said at the bottom of the syndicate are "recruiters" who recruit entities that have their businesses registered on the syndicate’s "database".

"From there, employees of government departments are involved, as middlemen, proceeding up to the main controlling heads and bodies of the syndicate …

"The accused [Msomi] is one of the controlling heads of the syndicate," he alleged.

Msomi told the court that he intends to plead "not guilty". The bail application will continue on February 27.

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