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Police forensic analyst guilty of elaborate half-million-rand-plus fraud

Guilty! That was the verdict against Aphiwe Qamungwana; a police forensic analyst who participated in an elaborate R614 851.59 fraud scheme that involved identity theft and foreign exchange crimes.

Qamungwana faced fraud charges linked to a scheme that defrauded Custom Seal Components. He was accused of pretending to be salesperson “Richman Banda” of Blue Hill Mine in Zimbabwe, who wanted rock drill bits to be supplied to the mine. 

Custom Seal Components is based in Roodepoort in west Johannesburg.

Despite asserting during his trial that he was a victim of crime and had been duped to commit fraud, the Palmridge commercial crimes court found Qamungwana guilty. On Monday October 4, Qamungwana, who is from the Eastern Cape, told the court that a probation officer from his home province would testify on his behalf in mitigation of sentence. He is out on bail and will return to court for sentencing next month. 

Qamungwana testified in June that unknown fraudsters had duped him and used his identity document to steal the money from Custom Seal Components. He said he only found out about the fraud while being treated in hospital for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition, he said, was caused by the gruesome incidents, such as car accidents, that he had to deal with in his line of work as a police officer since April 2016.

According to the charge sheet presented in court by state advocate Bongani Chauke of the National Prosecuting Authority, in 2019 the manager at Custom Seal Components, Graeme Duncan Cutler, received a call from a person purporting to be “Banda”, an employee of Blue Hill Mine.

“The call was about a business proposal wherein Custom Seal Components was to supply rock drill bits to Blue Hill Mine. The requirements … were sent to the complainant [Cutler] by Mr Banda,” the charge sheet reads. 

“The complainant could not find the supplier of the said products and relayed the said message to Mr Banda.” 

Banda advised Cutler to contact two companies — SMD and Rockbits — to determine whether one of them could supply the required products. Cutler apparently received an affirmative answer from SMD, which told him to deposit R614 851.59 into SMD’s FNB account. He deposited the sum on 20 October 2019. 

“The complainant then made a phone call to SMD to inquire as to the delivery dates, and various excuses were given until the telephone went unanswered. It’s not getting answered to date,” the charge sheet states. The FNB account belonged to Sandile Mandla Dlamini, who told investigators that “his profile was stolen and used to open the [FNB account] after he had lost his identity book”. 

In October 2019, Qamungwana approached British Airways to purchase an air ticket and then went to Travelex Foreign Exchange at OR Tambo International Airport to exchange two amounts — R392 423 and R195 149 — into British pounds.

“The transaction receipts from Travelex indicate that the accused [Qamungwana] is the person who received the amounts cashed at Travelex,” the charge sheet says.

In his June testimony, Qamungwana said he had met a friend he knew as “Ernest” after he arrived in Johannesburg in 2014 and had worked as a taxi driver in Ekurhuleni. Two years later, shortly after he had begun to work as a police officer, Qamungwana said “Ernest” asked to use his passport to withdraw funds he had received from a sister in the UK. 

Qamungwana said he had not seen the details of the bank card at Travelex, nor had he seen the name of the beneficiary. 

“I do not know Sandile Dlamini, nor have I ever opened an account with FNB. I do not know the complainant [Cutler], nor have I had dealings with him. I was [also] a victim. At the moment, I might lose my job,” he testified.

The court rejected his explanation as improbable, and found him guilty.

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Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.

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