Corrupt official loses bid to overturn 15-year jail term

A former government official who helped siphon almost R20 million out of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality's (NMMM's) coffers has lost her bid to overturn the 15-year prison term she ended up being slapped with. Pumla Ntozini, a one-time payroll administrator for the department of basic education, and seven others were convicted of fraud and money laundering in 2018 following a protracted court battle spanning five years. They were last year all given sentences of between ten and 15 years behind bars but Ntozini took hers on appeal, accusing the magistrate who heard the case of not having taken into...
A former government official who helped siphon almost R20 million out of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality's (NMMM's) coffers has lost her bid to overturn the 15-year prison term she ended up being slapped with.

Pumla Ntozini, a one-time payroll administrator for the department of basic education, and seven others were convicted of fraud and money laundering in 2018 following a protracted court battle spanning five years.

They were last year all given sentences of between ten and 15 years behind bars but Ntozini took hers on appeal, accusing the magistrate who heard the case of not having taken into account her personal circumstances – which included that she was in her sixties and unemployed and that she cared for her sickly husband and grandchild – as well as over-emphasising the seriousness of her crimes and the interests of society.

In handing down her ruling on Tuesday, though, Eastern Cape High Court Judge Judith Roberson upheld the magistrate's findings.

The judge described the scheme in which Ntozini was involved as "breathtaking".

"The modus operandi was the installation of computer software onto NMMM's Corporate Access Terminal System, which software was designed to record keystrokes and email the keystrokes to a syndicate member's email address, without the knowledge of the user of NMMM's system," Roberson explained.

"Through this installation, which was performed by one of [Ntozini's] co-accused who was employed by NMMM, the syndicate targeted and accessed NMMM's Standard Bank account, and made payments to 61 bank accounts sourced by the syndicate and accessible to the members. The various amounts paid to the 61 bank accounts made up the total of R19,722,000."

For her part, Ntozini helped recruit members into the syndicate and facilitated the use of a state witness's credit card to buy the software, under the pretext that she was purchasing clothing.

The bulk of the stolen funds ended up being recovered after the bank accounts into which they had been transferred were frozen but just under R1.8 million remains missing to this day.

"With regard specifically to [Ntozini], the magistrate took into account the appellant's age, her, what he termed, 'special circumstances' and her responsibilities, but was of the view that they did not justify a finding that there were substantial and compelling circumstances," Roberson said this week.

"In my view, the magistrate committed no material misdirection. It is clear that he did consider [Ntozini's] age and the evidence of her responsibilities, which would have been a reference at least to her husband, if not her grandchild. Against these circumstances, he had to balance the very large weight of the seriousness of the crimes and the effect on society."

Roberson pointed out that "an enormous sum of money was involved", adding: "If the operation had been carried through, the members of the syndicate would have become very wealthy. These were public funds. Their loss could have had a severe impact on NMMM's ability to function and serve its constituents, with widespread negative consequences."

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