Prisoner defrauds ministers from behind bars

Johannesburg – A sentenced prisoner who allegedly cloned the SIM card of former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu and used the politician’s cellphone number to defraud Cabinet ministers has been caught.

The total amount that Lucky Nhlanhla Sokhela, 25, managed to solicit is over R30000 as new victims of his alleged scam continue to come forward.

Sokhela, who is currently jailed in Pietermaritzburg for housebreaking, theft, robbery and for being in possession an illegal firearm and ammunition, appeared at the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Friday.

Prosecutor Richard Chabalala said Sokhela was facing charges of fraud, theft and money laundering.

The case was postponed to June to allow Sokhela to get an attorney.

It’s alleged that while jailed at Sevontein Prison, he was assisted by an outsider to obtain Mchunu’s cellphone number before cloning it in August. He also remotely deactivated Mchunu’s SIM card.

It’s alleged that Sokhela would then send SMSes to various Cabinet ministers and their colleagues, posing as Mchunu.

In the messages, which The Star has seen, Sokhela would claim to be in urgent need of money to help a destitute daughter of a “fellow comrade” from Zimbabwe.

Mchunu said that among high-profile people who Sokhela tried to con was the late environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa and other heads of various government departments. The money was usually transferred via e-wallet, making it difficult to trace the recipient.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said although he was not a direct victim, he knew about the scam. He alleged that Sokhela tried to con his office twice.

“My chief of staff paid R500 to him (Sokhela). He received a call that Senzo (Mchunu) wanted urgent help but he (the caller) could not get hold of me. He wanted R500 from him (the official).

“That guy is very clever because he chooses high officials and he knows that they will pay because they’d be doing a favour for their principal. In my case it was the official who lost money because my name was used to solicit the money,” Motsoaledi said.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed knowing about the scam and that he had interacted with Sokhela when the inmate wanted to solicit money from him.

Mchunu told The Star that the scam had been a big embarrassment for him: “He (Sokhela) has finished my name. My integrity has suffered a great deal and I’m embarrassed to attend political meetings because someone will tell me that I owe them money.”

New victims pop up almost daily.

Mchunu said one government official lost R10000 to the scam.

A source close to the case said more arrests would be made soon as it was believed that Sokhela was getting outside help to withdraw the money.

Last year, Jermaine Prim, an inmate at Bloemfontein’s Mangaung Prison, manipulated a cellphone and impersonated then prosecuting boss Shaun Abrahams to dupe prosecutors to drop car theft charges.

@lindilesifile

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