The Sunday Mail
IN what could be one of the biggest cybercrimes ever reported in the country, National Foods, a local manufacturer and marketer of food products, lost over US$6 million to criminals who hacked into its computer systems and accessed credentials to transfer money from its bank accounts.
The suspects, including two foreigners, engineered an intricate phishing scam that began with the scammers sending an e-mail purportedly from a South African financial institution to the National Foods’ finance manager.
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending e-mails disguised as electronic messages from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords.
Upon opening the e-mail, Natfoods’ computer system was corrupted.
This gave the fraudsters access to the company’s computer system, including authorisation to process financial transactions.
The scammers then began instructing the firm’s banks to deposit money into their own bank accounts in South Africa using the finance administrator’s credentials.
Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the case.
“I can confirm that we have that case. I will have the full details by Monday,” he said.
Sources close to the case said local banks were made to believe they were receiving genuine instructions to transfer funds from Natfoods.
The Sunday Mail has gathered that the funds were transferred into two South African banks — FNB and First Rand Bank — on numerous occasions between September and October last year.
The scandal only came to light in November following an internal financial audit that uncovered the suspicious transactions amounting to millions of dollars.
An investigation was then instituted to look at transactions between Natfoods and two local banks that dealt with the food processing company, and it was established that their computer system had been compromised.
“Local investigations established that the company’s computer system was hacked through the finance manager’s email,” said a source.
“No one noticed it until one of the banks indicated that there was an overdraft, which raised management’s eyebrows.
“A check was made into how the account got an overdraft and the bank statement proved that the money was transferred to South African banks.”
The matter was reported to the CID Commercial Crimes Department and investigations are ongoing.
According to police sources, out of the US$6 million that was spirited away by the scammers, about US$3,5 million had already been withdrawn.
Law-enforcement agents have since obtained a High Court order in SA to freeze bank accounts holding part of the loot pending investigations.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), with assistance from its counterparts in South Africa, have also obtained a seizure order to freeze properties suspected to have been bought using proceeds of the crime.
The South African AFU has since seized a fleet of top-of-the-range vehicles and a plush Johannesburg mansion pending further investigations.
In addition, detectives have identified two individuals — a Congolese and Ghanaian — as the masterminds behind the offence.
They are also following leads pointing to the involvement of Zimbabwean nationals.
As investigations into the matter intensify, an investigating team led by a high-ranking official from the NPA will leave for South Africa today to conduct further inquiries into the case.
South African authorities have granted the team two weeks to conduct their investigations.
“There has been a delay in the team getting clearance from the Government, but last week, they got the Cabinet authority to travel to the neighbouring country and Treasury has since provided funds for the trip,” said the source.
“Indications are that they want to trace more properties and transactions from bank accounts that were used in South Africa.
“The team will be working with the South African police since mutual legal assistance has been granted.”