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Couple sentenced to five years for defrauding bank

Nat Molomo

MASERU — A man and his girlfriend were on Tuesday sentenced to five years imprisonment for defrauding Standard Lesotho Bank of M500 000 in September last year.
Magistrate Molemo Monethi however suspended the sentence to give Malefane Sematlane, 41, and his girlfriend Mpho Phenduka, 31, a chance to repay the money.
They had managed to withdraw M100 000 before they were caught.
Phenduka and Sematlane shared the money with a Standard Bank employee who is alleged to have masterminded the fraud.
Themba Cheka, 34, the accomplice has turned state witness.
The bank employee who has not yet been charged will be tried separately.
Magistrate Monethi ordered Sematlane and Phenduka to pay M17 500 each by December 31.
Magistrate Monethi said if they fail to pay by the end of this year the amount they will each have to pay will increase to M25 000.
The magistrate said he was also suspending the jail sentence on condition that the couple cooperates with the prosecution and become accomplice witnesses against the bank employee.
The money belonged to Unicef but was in the account of the Ministry of Education as a donation.
Sematlane signed a fake voucher and the M500 000 was credited to Phenduka’s account with the help of the bank employee.
“The money belongs to the donors, but I suspend my judgment on condition that you cooperate with the prosecution and become accomplice witnesses in the prosecution of the bank employee who is being sought by the prosecution,” said the magistrate.
“If you join hands you can pay that amount.”
Before the sentencing Prosecutor Tsietsi Hlaele had told the court that had the accused pleaded not guilty, the prosecution was going to call accomplice witness Cheka.
According to the prosecution, Cheka was going to tell the court that he knows the man who works at the Standard Lesotho Bank.
The bank employee’s name was not mentioned in court because he has not yet been charged.
The prosecutor said Cheka would tell the court that in September last year the bank employee asked him “whether he has an account with the Standard Lesotho Bank and whether they could deposit money into his account”.
Cheka told the man that he does not have an account with Standard Lesotho Bank but would help by looking for someone who was a client with the bank.
Cheka then met Sematlane who agreed to use his girlfriend’s account.
Cheka then arranged for Sematlane to meet the bank employee.
“The bank man said he could deposit M500 000 to be withdrawn after three days,” the prosecutor said.
After three days Cheka, Phenduka and Sematlane managed to withdraw M100 000 which they shared with the bank employee and Cheka.
After three days, Cheka got to know that Phenduka was being sought by police.
The prosecution said it would also call another witness, Relebohile Makamane, who works at Standard Lesotho Bank’s City Bank.
Prosecutor Hlaele said Makamane would tell the court that she knows Phenduka as a family friend and she knew that she was dating Sematlane.
On September 14, 2011 Phenduka arrived at the bank and asked Makamane to help her withdraw money.
Makamane then asked for her passport but Phenduka showed her a document indicating that her passport was lost. Makamane was surprised by the amount in the account but Phenduka explained that her boyfriend is a car salesman and had been paid a large sum.
Phenduka told Makamane that her boyfriend had arranged that the money be deposited into her account.
Makamane advised Phenduka to get a passport as the amount was too huge.
After Phenduka pleaded with her, Makamane endorsed at the back the withdrawal slip to indicate that she knows Phenduka and had allowed her to withdraw the money.
After enquiries the bank found that it was not clear where the money came from.
Further investigations revealed that the money had came from Unicef Lesotho.
The bank contacted the education ministry which said Penduka was never supposed to receive the M500 000.
Her account was blocked and the matter was reported to the police’s fraud department.

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