Woman who tried to defraud city of R20m loses appeal

Pumla Ntozini, one of the masterminds behind a sophisticated syndicate of high-tech computer hackers who tried to defraud the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality of almost R20m, has lost her appeal against her 15-year sentence
FAILED BID: Pumla Ntozini, one of the masterminds behind a sophisticated syndicate of high-tech computer hackers who tried to defraud the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality of almost R20m, has lost her appeal against her 15-year sentence
Image: 123RF

One of the masterminds behind a sophisticated syndicate of hi-tech computer hackers, who tried to defraud the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality of almost R20m has lost her appeal against her 15-year jail sentence.

Pumla Ntozini was sentenced to an effective 15 years in June 2019 after she was convicted on charges of fraud and money laundering.

In her appeal judgment on Tuesday, Makhanda high court judge Judith Roberson found that Ntozini did not show any exceptional circumstances to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence of five years for contravening the Protection of Organised Crime Act and 15 years for fraud.

Ntozini and nine others were found guilty of hacking the city’s bank accounts and trying to steal R19m by transferring the cash into 61 different municipal beneficiary accounts during 2009.

When the municipality picked up on the dealings some of the accounts were frozen, but the group had already managed to steal R1.7m.

The six-year court battle, which started in 2013 and cost R1.3m to investigate, involved Bay municipal officials, education department staff and IT specialists, all of whom were arrested while hiding out in Port Elizabeth, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal during 2013.

The group targeted government computers and siphoned off millions from bank accounts after installing sophisticated software programmes allowing them to hack into the accounts.

Some of the members were also connected to a similar hacking scam in the Koukamma municipality, where they tried to steal more than R1.4m in 2012.

Former acting municipality head of staff Kholeka Ngqondi was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for fraud, while her husband, Khayalethu, was given 10 years’ jail time.

Both were sentenced to five years for money laundering.

Ntozini and Lungisa Kosi were sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Kosi’s sentence was ordered to run concurrently with his 15-year sentence for his involvement in the Koukamma municipality fraud case.

The sentencing magistrate at the time found it disappointing that Ntozini and her co-accused had shown no remorse, and described them as “a relentless bunch of criminals whose aim it was to enrich themselves to a major extent”.

In her appeal, Ntozini claimed the sentencing magistrate had paid insufficient regard to her personal circumstances, and over-emphasised the seriousness of the offences and the interests of society.

In dismissing Ntozini’s appeal, Roberson said in her view the sentencing magistrate “committed no material misdirection”.

“If the operation had been carried through, the members of the syndicate would have become very wealthy.

“Their loss could have had a severe impact on NMBM’s ability to function and serve its constituents, with widespread negative consequences.

“In my view, the magistrate struck the correct balance between the relevant factors and the effective sentence was entirely proportionate,” Roberson said.

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