A 34-year-old father from Bloemfontein, Free State, was shocked when he woke up on Monday to find his picture splashed all over the internet as a wanted suspect for an R6m cyber heist of a pharmacy.
Despite proving his identity was stolen, the former teacher and researcher have tried in vain to get the Hawks to retract a picture they published, thrusting him into the national spotlight for the 2019 hacking of the Kimberley pharmacy.
The man, who asked not to be named, has had his face widely circulated by the Hawks, who identified him as a wanted suspect alongside a woman on fraud charges.
On Saturday, Northern Cape Hawks spokesperson Tebogo Thebe issued a statement and pictures of the duo, saying Lindani Mbatha, 38, and Ellen Baloyi, 31, were suspects and persons of interest in the investigation and called for the public to assist in finding them.
Thebe said the bank account of Hartwater Apteek in Kimberley was hacked and R6m was transferred into a Luno account linked to the pair in November 2019.
He said the money was never recovered. Sowetan understands it was used to buy Bitcoins.
On Thursday, the man whose picture was circulated under Mbatha’s name told Sowetan he was angry and feared for his life.
“I woke up on Monday morning and got a WhatsApp message on my phone from a former learner, which was a screenshot of a news article with my picture and that I was a wanted suspect for stealing money in Kimberley.
“I have never set foot in Kimberley. The name that was used [with the picture] was not mine. I panicked because I hadn’t done anything like that. I called the police in Kimberley to inform them that I knew nothing about this.
“They told me to come there. I refused and told them they should come to where I am and that I wasn’t going to use my resources [as] I had nothing to do with this crime.” said the man.
He said members of the Hawks arrived on Monday afternoon and he showed them his ID,
“They said it was not enough proof and that we should drive to a home affairs office, where they could verify my identity.
“They went on to search in the system using Mbatha’s ID number and his information came up but there was no picture. I was then released,” he said. He said the picture was taken from his Facebook which he deactivated last year.
Thebe confirmed the man’s identity had been stolen.
The man said he was struggling to get the Hawks to clarify that he was not a wanted suspect.
“It puts my life in danger because people who may never get the clarity may believe that I am still a wanted suspect and attack me. I also have an image as a researcher and author.
“Why did the police not verify before sending out the media release. My job sometimes requires that I do TV interviews and interact with publishers. If they see my face as a wanted suspect, it will affect my reputation,” he said.
Hartswater Apteek co-owner Mattheus de Bruyn confirmed that the pharmacy’s bank account was hacked and R6m stolen.
De Bruyn said the company conducted an internal investigation and handed over its findings to the police.
He said through the assistance of the police, Hawks and banks, they put in systems to protect their software.
“The investigation is still ongoing and we want to allow the law to take its course,” said De Bruyn. He said the theft negatively impacted his business. The pharmacy was established in 1998 and has 10 employees.
“All our money was gone. We had no savings left. We had to start from the bottom. We struggled to pay salaries and our creditors. We had to make arrangements with them [creditors],” said De Bruyn.
He would not answer any further questions, referring Sowetan to his lawyer Benny de Bruyn, who said he was instructed not to comment. – Sowetan