Fraud suspect escapes

2009-01-29 00:00

Police are hunting for a key suspect said to be part of a huge fraud syndicate. He escaped last month pending his trial on charges that he defrauded state departments of more than R20 million.

Investigating officer Inspector Stephen Gouws said Sipho Sthembiso Msomi escaped - allegedly on the way from the regional court to New Prison in Pietermaritzburg - on December 9 last year.

Gouws said he devoted three years of intensive investigative work to the case, in which Msomi is alleged to be one of four syndicate members whose trial was scheduled to start in the regional court in Pietermaritzburg in March.

He said the circumstances of Msomi's escape are "highly suspect" and are under investigation.

He said Msomi must have had assistance from officials. He was in the custody of police officers when he escaped.

"I was not informed at the time. I was only told by members of Correctional Services that he had gone missing when I went to see him at New Prison last week," said Gouws.

Gouws last year opposed a bail application by Msomi at which he testified that Msomi, a computer expert, was alleged to have facilitated the theft of vast sums of money by installing "spy software" into computers in various government departments, which was then used to access user identities and passwords of employees. The programme which originated in the U.S. is known as "Win Spy".

Gouws said at the hearing before magistrate Paul van Dongen that he feared that if Msomi were released he would be killed by the syndicate as he had previously been tortured for allegedly failing to co-operate with the syndicate.

Gouws testified that Msomi was arrested on similar charges previously and pleaded guilty in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court in June 2006, but was given a five year wholly suspended jail sentence after undertaking to assist the Scorpions with further investigations into the syndicate's activities.

Instead he had vanished until he was arrested in Ulundi in November 2007 on the current charges.

Gouws said at the time that numerous state witnesses as well as whistle blowers had been murdered by the syndicate to which Msomi had been connected for at least two to three years.

He said Msomi's role had been a crucial one, and said he was suspected to be one of the "controlling heads" of the crime organisation.

Msomi indicated at the hearing that he intended to plead not guilty, and said he was a travel agent, that his wife was ill and he was his family's sole breadwinner.

He was eventually refused bail by Van Dongen who ruled that he would be a flight risk if released.

Police have appealed to anyone who has information about Msomi's whereabouts to contact Gouws at 033 845 8534 or 082 556 9310 or Crime Stop at 08600 10111.


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