POLICE have embarked on a massive manhunt for a former provincial government employee, believed to be linked to the disappearance of R7,5 million from the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
The money, which had been ring-fenced for a community centre in Bulwer, part of the Ingwe Municipality, went missing last month.
The woman, whose identity is known to The Witness, is said to have “managed to bypass an already complex biometrics procedure for settling government invoices”, according to Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso.
He said KZN Cogta, in partnership with the Hawks, continue to search for the employee to get more answers, and are investigating whether she was aided by other parties.
The account number was changed prior to the payment being made, and the money was diverted into the account of Imvusa Trading.
Sources inside the department said the suspect had got an “unsuspecting” colleague to authorise the payment.
The department picked up the audit trail in the accounting system after Ingwe Municipality phoned to inquire about the status of the payment.
The woman is believed to have resigned with immediate effect on 26 November and vanished into thin air.
Her colleagues described her as a humble person and could not believe she would do such a thing.
A businessman, Mex Dhladhla, made a brief appearance in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday in connection with the theft of the R7,5 million.
Dhlahla was granted bail of R50 000.
Investigating officer Brad Swift of the Commercial Crimes Unit of the Directorate for Priority Crimes said in an affidavit before court that Dhadhla was implicated in the crime due to the fact that the stolen money was paid into the account of one of his businesses, Imvusa Trading 859 CC, of which he is the sole active member.
The money was paid into the account of Imvusa Trading on 11 November.
The R7,5 million has since been withdrawn from the account and to date police are unaware of how or where it has been spent.
Dhladhla has elected to invoke his right to remain silent and has not given police any explanation as to how the money ended up in his account, nor its current whereabouts.
Swift did not oppose bail for Dhladhla because he voluntarily handed himself over to investigators in the presence of his attorney after he was informed telephonically that they were looking for him.
Magistrate M. Boikhutso granted Dhladhla bail of R50 000 on condition that he report twice weekly to the Hilton police station.
The case has been adjourned to 1 February, 2016 pending further police investigations.
Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube welcomed the arrest of the businessman.
“We continue the hunt down of all those involved and we will punish them through our courts. We are following important leads. We are encircling them and there will be no room for escape. We are at their rear and their flanks.
“This is a most unfortunate incident and must prompt us in government to rethink the way we handle monetary transactions.
“The current system where officials, mostly in administration, are responsible for processing payments, some worth millions, to service providers warrants a review so that government minimise the risks of falling prey to scams of this nature,” said Dube-Ncube.
“While financial transactions in government are constantly being made more secure because of the amount of money in circulation between government and its service providers, government remains an attractive target for criminals.
“We assure the public that we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that those behind this gross act of fraud are brought to book.”
She said they have also asked the Hawks to investigate whether a possibility exists of a syndicate preying on officials with access to government transactions and system procedures. “This disturbing trend started in a few municipalities and was thwarted, but now seems to be migrating to the other levels of government.”
Police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese said the case was opened by a manager at Cogta and that police will continue to search for the suspect.