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Stringent conditions for M18 million ‘fraudsters’

Mohalenyane Phakela

SUSPECTS who allegedly defrauded the government of M17 million will have to dig very deep into their pockets after Maseru magistrate Peter Murenzi imposed stringent bail conditions requiring each of them to fork out M10 000 and M250 000 worth of immovable assets as surety.

A fourth suspect, Joel Lerotholi, was denied bail on the grounds that he is already facing another charge of stealing M5, 4 million from the government.

Lerotholi appeared before the same court on 5 October 2018 in the latter case and he was granted bail after bring ordered to pay M1 000 bail and M50 000 surety.

Commenting on the stringent bail conditions, Magistrate Murenzi said that this had been a tough decision to make but it was necessary due to the fact that “cyber fraud is a new wave of crime, an economic boomerang, which we are dealing with at the moment…and it seems there are people who are already ahead in terms of technology”.

“I have deeply considered the submissions especially that of Crown in seriousness of the offence in that it paralyses or brings threat to economic innovation. I also understand the fear and shock of the society but then everybody is entitled to bail if the court is assured that that the accused will not abscond trial.

“The court grants bail to the accused…except for accused number four (Lerotholi) who was remanded on 5 October of the same crime of defrauding the government of M5 million which is a huge amount of money.

“The bail conditions are that the accused pay M10 000 bail and further present the court with surety valued at M250 000 in the form of immovable property. They should further surrender their passports to the investigating officers and also report to the police every first and last Friday of every month while also not interfering with investigations and always attend remands. For those married I also need consent from the spouses.”

Magistrate Murenzi subsequently remanded the case to 6 December.

Lerotholi is accused along with Police Constable (PC) Mokone Bereng, Abiele Moletsane, businessmen Makhetha Thaele, Thabiso Mapetla as well as Joel Lerotholi and ’Mamothibeli Piti who are both employed at the Standard Lesotho Bank.

The charge sheet states that the six accused are “charged with contravening Section 57 (1) (2) (a) of the Penal Code Act No. 6 of 2010 read with Section 109 in that upon or about October 2018, the accused did, acting with common purpose, unlawfully stole money belonging to the Lesotho government to the tune of M17 million by transferring it electronically to their different bank accounts”.

PC Bereng, Mr Moletsane and Ms Piti first appeared before the Maseru Magistrates’ on 12 November this year with Mr Lerotholi joining them on 16 November. Messrs Thaele and Mapetla first appeared before the court last Monday.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli recently told the Sunday Express that the accused allegedly defrauded the government of M17 million and some motor dealers of amounts in the region of over a million maloti through fraudulent purchases.

“The accused defrauded the sub-accountancy department (of the Ministry of Finance) in Leribe of an estimated M17 million by hacking into its system,” Supt Mopeli said, adding, “they then went on to purchase some vehicles at various car dealers where they paid through electronic transfers”.

“They always paid money exceeding the actual price of their purchase and then later claimed they had erred and demanded to rectify their mistake and demanded the excess in cash in the process,” Sup Mopeli said.

The transactions are said to have occurred in October this year and the suspects allegedly deposited the ill-gotten funds into three different accounts which they had opened under false identities in South Africa.

Supt Mopeli further said they had recovered a Prado vehicle from PC Bereng which is valued at M130 000.

“Investigations to track the other eight cars are ongoing and these include a BMW 120i worth M122 000, a Honda Elision (M54 000), an Audi A3 (M77 000), two Mercedes Vianos (one valued at M165 000 and the other at M195 000) and three Mercedes Benz C200 vehicles (two of them valued at M160 000 and the other M165 000),” Supt Mopeli said.

The car dealers who were allegedly defrauded by the suspects are United Motors, Sam Motors, Koloi Land, Faiz Motors, Motornet and JH Motors.

“The police have also recovered and confiscated some moveable property comprising of sofas worth M41 000, a double door refrigerator worth M21 000 and a washing machine priced at M7 000 from the female sales consultant who was cohabiting with one of the suspects.”

Supt Mopeli said primary investigations have yielded that M10 million of the fraudulently acquired money has already been exhausted while the remaining M7 million has been frozen in the bank accounts.

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