National Foods, a leading food product maker and marketer in Zimbabwe, has fallen victim to one of the largest cybercrimes ever documented in the country, losing nearly US$6 million to hackers who infiltrated its computer systems and siphoned money from its bank accounts.
The fraudsters, who include two foreigners, used a sophisticated phishing scheme to trick the company’s finance manager into opening an email that appeared to be from a South African financial institution. The email contained a malicious software that corrupted the company’s computer system and gave the hackers access to credentials to process financial transactions.
The hackers then used the credentials to instruct the company’s local banks to transfer money into their own bank accounts in South Africa on several occasions between September and October last year. The scam was only discovered in November following an internal financial audit that revealed the suspicious transactions.
The matter was reported to the police and an investigation was launched to trace the money and the suspects. According to police sources, out of the US$6 million that was stolen by the hackers, about US$3,5 million had already been withdrawn.
However, with the help of their South African counterparts, Zimbabwean law-enforcement agents have managed to obtain a court order to freeze bank accounts holding part of the loot pending investigations. They have also seized properties suspected to have been bought using proceeds of the crime, including a fleet of luxury vehicles and a mansion in Johannesburg.
The police have also identified two individuals — a Congolese and a 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 National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will leave for South Africa today to conduct further inquiries into the case. They have been granted two weeks by South African authorities to work with their local police and trace more properties and transactions from bank accounts that were used in the scam.
National Foods has not issued any official statement on the matter. The company is one of the largest food processing companies in Zimbabwe, producing and marketing a range of products such as flour, maize meal, stock feeds, snacks and beverages.