ATM card-cloning group sent to jail for four years

WINDHOEK: Five people found guilty of running an international syndicate which made fraudulent credit and debit card transactions during 2007, were on Monday sent to jail for four years each.

The group consists of four foreign nationals and a Namibian.

They are Amirthaligam Pugalnanthy, 25, and Pararasasingam Sarangan, 24, both from Sri Lanka; British national Salheeskumar Thulasithas, 30; Namibian national Tjiuiju Travoltha Mekaundapi, 27; and Obdur Kader Jamar, 43, from Singapore.

The five were sentenced by High Court Judge Alfred Siboleka after he found them guilty on 07 April 2014 on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud, three alternative counts of fraud in terms of unlawful use of property, two alternative counts of fraud in terms of non-declaration of goods.

The charges stem from them having been found in the illegal possession of foreign currency in excess of the amount legally permitted by the Bank of Namibia as well as an alternative count of fraud in terms of forgery of a driver’s licence in August 2007.

The first two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and fraud were taken together as one count for the purposes of sentencing.

On these counts, the five men were each sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment of which eight years were suspended for a period of five years on condition that they are not convicted of fraud or any other related crimes during the period of suspension.

This means that on these counts, the convicts were each sent to jail for four years.

On the alternative three counts of fraud in terms of unlawful use of property, the group members were each sentenced to six months imprisonment.

They were also sentenced to pay a fine of N.dollars 4 000 each or 12 months’ imprisonment on the two alternative counts of fraud in terms of the non-declaration of goods.

On the last alternative count of fraud for forgery of a driver’s licence, the five men were each sentenced to pay a fine of N.dollars 5 000 or 12 months’ imprisonment.

It was then ordered that all the sentences imposed in all the alternative counts run concurrently with the sentence imposed in the count of conspiracy to commit fraud and that of fraud.

The Court has also ordered that all the mobile phones, a Sony camera, a video camera, drivers’ licences, wallets, clothes, bank cards of the convicts and other times be returned to them immediately.

It was again ordered that all the pieces of equipment which were confiscated by the members of the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) during a search at a guest house, including the bundles of fake or cloned bank/credit cards used by the convicts in the commission of the crimes, be forfeited to the State.

“All the five accused persons acted in common purposes and acted as a group together to commit their fraudulent criminal acts. The prosecution witnesses presented credible evidence when testifying before court and they had no reasons to implicate the five men in the matter,” said Siboleka as he imposed the punishment.

The judge said the five men had intentionally defrauded the various local banking institutions at the time.

Evidence presented during trial had it that the syndicate gained access to information found on Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and credit cards, either by stealing the original cards or by card-skimming or scanning the information on cards, using equipment apparently attached to the card slot of an ATM.

Members of the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) at the time managed to recover N.dollars 920 741.56 during their sting operation, of which N.dollars 94 372 was in Namibian currency.

Three of the convicted persons were caught red-handed at an ATM in Katutura in the early hours of one Tuesday in August 2007, where the police had set a trap for them.

The three arrested persons then led the authorities to the rest of the group, and to the equipment which they had been using to commit the fraud, which was also confiscated by the police.

Upon their arrest, it was reported that the group had tried in vain to come to an agreement with a security guard during a previous visit to the ATM, but the guard reported their suspicious behaviours to his superiors, which eventually led to their arrest.

NamPol, along with staff members of Bank Windhoek displayed a host of fraudulent cards, mobile phones, labelling devices and a card-printing machine confiscated from the group during August 2007 in the capital.

Bank Windhoek said at the time that the group appeared to have been working with a group of people outside Namibia.

The four foreign nationals have been kept in police custody at the Windhoek Central Prison’s holding cells since their arrest in August 2007, with no option to post bail.

Namibian national Mekaundapi had been free on bail of N.dollars 50 000, and his bail was withdrawn upon his conviction on 07 April 2014.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Ed Marondedze represented the prosecution in the matter.

Windhoek-based defence lawyers of Sisa Namandje and Brownell Uirab represented the five men, acting on the instructions of the Justice Ministry’s Directorate of Legal Aid.