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Judge says $400 000 fraudster can keep job

By Mashudu Netsianda

The High Court has nullified the dismissal of a Bulawayo woman fired by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement after she was convicted of defrauding ZB Bank of more than US$400 000 through fraudulent electronic transactions.

Bulawayo High Court
Bulawayo High Court

Chipo Pirukayi (37) of Pelandaba suburb was employed as a cartographer by the Ministry at Mhlahlandlela Complex in Bulawayo and doubled up as a ZB Bank agent.

She was in February convicted of 79 counts of fraud by Bulawayo Regional Magistrate Ms Sibonginkosi Mkandla and sentenced to eight years in jail.

Two years were suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour. Another four years were further suspended on condition that she restitutes the bank $427 707, 80 on or before December 31, leaving her with an effective two years to serve.

Prosecutors said she defrauded the bank by opening fake accounts in the names of her relatives and conducting fraudulent transactions and in the process prejudicing ZB Bank of $427 707,80 for a period spanning almost a year.

Pirukayi is on $500 bail pending appeal against her conviction and sentence.

The ruling by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Maxwell Takuva follows a court application for a declaratur by Pirukayi, through her lawyers Ncube and Partners, challenging her dismissal.

In papers before the court, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Retired Air Chief Marshall Perrance Shiri, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Engineer Ringson Chitsiko, the Secretary of the Public Service Commission, Ambassador Jonathan Wutawunashe and the Paymaster of the Salary Service Bureau, were cited as respondents.

Justice Takuva ruled that Pirukayi’s dismissal was unlawful given that she had already noted an appeal at the High Court challenging her conviction and sentence.

“It is ordered that the decision of the respondents to unilaterally cease the salary of the applicant (Pirukayi) and subsequent discharge her from the service be and hereby declared unlawful and therefore null and void. The decision to dismiss the applicant is hereby set aside and the respondents to pay the costs of suit,” ruled the judge.

In her founding affidavit, Pirukayi said her employers unfairly and unreasonably failed to afford her an opportunity to be heard before unilaterally ceasing her salary and discharging her from the civil service.

“The failure to comply with the provisions of the law by unilaterally ceasing my salary and subsequently discharging me from service consequently results in an absurd and untenable situation,” she said.

In her notice of appeal, Pirukayi argued that the lower court misdirected itself by relying on verbal extra-curial confessions she allegedly made under duress to persons in authority.

“The court a quo erred and misdirected itself in finding that the element of intent to defraud the bank had been proved based on its misconstrued finding that I had processed recklessly to make credits to various accounts and that in all the transactions I benefitted,” she said.

Pirukayi said the magistrate dismissed her defence without applying the test prescribed by case law for such dismissal. She said the State failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Pirukayi was a registered ZB Bank Point of Sale (POS) agent, whose duties were solely to offer services and products to clients such as opening of eWallet accounts, issuance of ATM cards, cash withdrawals, cash deposits and cash transfers.

She was issued with a POS machine (ID 51310207) to enable her to execute her duties.

According to court papers, between January 24 and October 5, 2017, Pirukayi used her POS machine to credit accounts created in the names of her relatives with fabricated figures. She lied that the accounts had effected deposits into their e-Wallets.

Pirukayi would then swipe into her POS machine using cards of non-existent clients.

She would then transfer money deposited into the accounts by the bank through the ZIPIT platform, internal transfer and sometimes make purchases with ATM cards.

On October 5, 2017, a team of forensic auditors, including the bank, conducted an audit of the ZB Bank E-Wallet banking system and discovered a series of inconsistencies.

ZB Bank immediately froze the accounts and only managed to recover $59 000. It was established that Pirukayi bought several cars from the proceeds of the crime. The Chronicle