Home Crime & Courts Mafeteng man charged over M7.2m Econet, LEC fraud

Mafeteng man charged over M7.2m Econet, LEC fraud

by Lesotho Times
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  • Forty-one year-old Walim Ashraf taken into custody after failing to raise half-a-million maloti bail and M1 million surety.

Moorosi Tsiane

A MAFETENG man of Indian origin, Walim Ashraf (41), appeared before the Maseru Magistrates’ Court this week accused of stealing M7.2 million from Econet Telecom Lesotho.

The funds had been meant to pay the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) for electricity units bought by clients through Econet’s EcoCash platform, but allegedly fraudulently ended up in Mr Ashraf’s bank account on 8 May 2023.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) finally cracked the case and on Tuesday, charged Mr Ashraf with two counts of fraud and money-laundering to kick-start what could be a protracted legal battle with the suspect.

After the charges were read to him, Mr Ashraf’s lawyer, Kabelo Letuka, pleaded for his client to  be released on M10 000 bail, find someone with land in Mafeteng that would stand him surety, and also report to Mafeteng Police Station every last Friday of the month.

Advocate Letuka then led Mr Ashraf with questions about his background before Magistrate Lerato Ntelane.

“I stay in Mafeteng with my parents; my wife and kids are in Johannesburg as my kids are in school there, so the wife is staying with them. I have two business complexes in Mafeteng,”  Mr Ashraf told the court.

DCEO Prosecutor, Mponeng Ranthithi, told the court that they were not opposing the bail but also wanted the court to take into account the serious nature of the crimes Mr Ashraf is being accused of.

“We have no objection your Ladyship. However, we want the court to consider the seriousness of the crimes the accused is charged with. Our investigations have also revealed that he is in possession of South African citizenship which means he might not make it to trial. We are also suggesting that he be admitted to a bail deposit of M500 000 and should find someone to stand him surety with an immovable property in Maseru Urban. The investigations have been completed,” said Adv Ranthithi.

But as Adv Ranthithi was addressing the court, the DCEO officer investigating the matter, Thabang Ntai, whispered something to her.

Adv Ranthithi then informed the court that she had just learnt that Mr Ashraf had lied to the court when he said his wife and children were in South Africa, when they were in India. She asked that the matter be stood down for a few minutes so they could address the issue with Adv Letuka.

After a short adjournment, the court returned and Adv Letuka asked his client to explain to the court why he had said his family was in South Africa.

“It was a slip of the tongue because when DCEO officers called me last week, I was in South Africa on a business trip. I apologise for that. My kids and wife are based in India and have been there for almost three years now,” Mr Ashraf said.

He added that apart from the two business complexes, he also owned duplexes, a residential house and other businesses in Mafeteng.

Magistrate Ntelane, however, said she had concerns about the accused’s contradicting stories.

“Bail is not denied, but I have concerns; this South Africa issue has put me off balance. Before I make any decision, I want papers of these properties. Also, I am now in a difficult position because of your statements. I have seen cases where an accused sells his property and absconds, so the fact that you have property in Mafeteng doesn’t mean much. I will, for

now, stand this matter down until I have seen the papers later today,” Magistrate Ntelane

said, further signing a blue form for Mr Ashraf to be taken to the Lesotho Correctional

Service (LCS) facilities for detention.

When the court reconvened after lunch, Mr Ashraf presented a lease of a site he owns in Mafeteng, but the document revealed he was not married as he had just told the court.

Magistrate Ntelane then ordered that he pays a bail deposit of M500 000 and get someone to stand him surety of immovable property worth M1 000 000.

However, after Mr Ashraf failed to pay the bail, he was taken to an LCS facility where he will be detained until his trial day on 5 September 2023.

Meanwhile, Econet and LEC have been at loggerheads over the missing money and the  matter is still pending before the High Court.

Econet says it deposited M7 298 071.34 into a First National Bank (FNB) Lesotho account on 8 May 2023 after being advised to do so by the LEC using normal communication channels the two entities had used for years.

But it later emerged the computer systems of both organisations had been hacked into and the money allegedly diverted into an account belonging to Mr Ashraf. Econet subsequently reported the alleged fraud to the DCEO in May.

No arrests had been made until this Monday when Mr Ashraf was asked to report to the DCEO offices in Maseru where he was interrogated and released the same day. He was asked to report himself again the following day when he was arrested and taken to court.

According to the charge-sheet, Mr Ashraf deliberately made false representation to Econet

that he was Makarabelo Masuoane, an employee of the LEC. Under the cover of this

misinterpretation, Mr Ashraf allegedly wrote an email to Econet’s Tankiso Pholosi, informing her that the account number into which payments for EcoCash electricity purchases were to be made, had been changed.

Ashraf, the charge-sheet adds, did this “…with the intention that Ms Pholosi acted on such representation…and paid M7 298, 071.34 into the newly provided account number whereas the accused knew that he was not an employee of LEC and he could not and was not authorised to conduct any business on behalf of LEC. The account he provided did not belong to LEC but, in fact, belonged to himself. He is accused of fraud or alternatively, theft.”

Mr Ashraf is also charged with money-laundering for his Mafeteng properties which allegedly are proceeds of crime, according to Adv Ranthithi.


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