By Iviwe Makhasi

Siyambonga Mhlakaza (35) was jailed by the Mthatha Specialised Commercial Crimes Court for stealing R1.2 million from Walter Sisulu University (WSU).

He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for money laundering and 15 years in prison for 81 charges of fraud that were combined into one charge. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently by the court.

Mhlakaza pled guilty, acknowledging that he was involved in a scheme in which allowances for financially disadvantaged students and academic staff wages were siphoned to his bank accounts.

At least 81 students were affected, with some of them opting out of university due to financial difficulties.

Mhlakaza claims in his plea explanation that he was approached by a WSU employee from the Financial Aid Bureau division who asked for his bank accounts so that he could deposit monies in them. He claimed that the financial difficulties he was facing at the time prompted him to comply.

Mhlakaza, a Rhodes University Bachelor of Pharmacy dropout, has not given authorities the name of the WSU employee, but he has admitted to giving the person his financial information. Between April and June of 2016, deposits ranging from R6000 to R89000 were made into his accounts.

He further admitted to the court that he transferred the funds to various bank accounts with various banks in order to conceal and disguise the origin, source, location, disposition, and movement of the funds that he used for his own profit.

The fraudster further admitted that he pretended to be a qualifying student who wanted to check allowances and modify their banking details by calling Intellimali, a private organization responsible for the delivery of allowances to students. Officials from Intellimali will then deposit monies owed to these pupils into his various accounts.

After one of the students raised an alert about her allowance not being put into her account, WSU initiated an internal investigation.

Funds from the Motsepe Foundation and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) were routed to Mhlakaza and others, according to the probe.

Mhlakaza was arrested in May 2021 after a subsequent investigation by Sergeant Thembani Langeni of the South African Police Services’ Provincial Commercial Investigations. Nolufefe Matera, Sibongiseni Matshamba, and Loyiso Siyo were detained and charged with him. The three have pled not guilty, and their case will be heard separately from Mhlakaza’s on March 16, 2022.

State Attorney General Ncedo Buso urged the court to sentence Mhlakaza to a minimum of 15 years in jail. He said that not a single cent of the money Mhlakaza scammed and laundered was ever retrieved.

Mhlakaza’s admission of guilt, according to the prosecutor, was not a display of remorse, but he recognized that the evidence against him was strong.

Magistrate Shylock Ndengezi, who delivered the punishment, agreed with the prosecutor, and cautioned WSU officials in the court that the mastermind behind the intricate scheme remains unknown and within their midst because Mhlakaza refuses to give his identify.

“Your conduct had far-reaching devastating consequences to the future of poor students,” said Magistrate Ndengezi.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) applauds the admitted fraudster’s punishment, which comes after a previous conviction for stealing in Makhanda.

“We hope it will serve as a deterrent to other would-be white-collar criminals”

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