A FORMER manager of insurance company Santam Namibia’s legal department was found guilty of 12 charges of fraud in the High Court in Windhoek yesterday.
Following her conviction, the bail of Esmereel Cerelda Homses (35) was cancelled and she was told that she would have to remain in custody until her trial continued from January 14 with the hearing of further evidence and arguments before her sentencing.
Homses stood trial before Judge Alfred Siboleka on 29 main counts of fraud and alternative charges of theft. Judge Siboleka convicted her on 12 of those charges, involving a total amount of a little over N$465 000, and found her not guilty on the 17 other charges.
Homses was accused of having defrauded Santam Namibia, or having stolen a total of N$1,149 million from the company, between June 2005 and the end of January 2008.
The fraud or theft was allegedly committed when claims for insurance payments lodged with the company were paid out to people who were not entitled to receive such payments. The prosecution alleged that Homses later collected the money from the people who had received the payments and rewarded them with a token amount for the use of their bank account.
Homses claimed in a plea explanation at the start of her trial that she relied on information that came to her office and that had been provided by claimants or colleagues on the occasions that she recommended or authorised the payment of claims.
She also told the court that she shared her confidential computer password with other colleagues in her department. Two of those colleagues were later dismissed by Santam because of dishonesty, she claimed.
The record of 29 claims which Santam paid out to people who were allegedly not entitled to receive those payments indicated that Homses had requested the authorisation of those payments.
On Homses’s claim that she was not the only person who knew her password, Judge Siboleka commented that Homses, who is a former public prosecutor and has two law degrees, was in a better position than others to understand the huge losses that could easily follow if the security precaution of keeping passwords confidential was not adhered to. Instead, she deliberately ignored that policy of the company and gave her password to others in her department.
In court, she turned around and tried to use her own intentional violation of Santam policy as a defence, saying that since her password was known to others its presence on the 29 claim files before court did not necessarily mean that she had had actually been the person who had requested authorisation of payments on those claims, the judge said.
Judge Siboleka concluded that Santam would not have suffered any loss had it not been for Homses, as head of the legal department, requesting and recommending that payments be made to fictitious payees.
Homses’s conduct in making her password available to other people in her department while knowing that doing so was an offence which could lead to her dismissal was a carefully planned tactic to cover her tracks, and something she knew she could later use in court as a defence, the judge also concluded.
The judge found that in respect of 12 of the charges it was proved that Homses had requested and recommended the payment of claims while knowing very well that the recipients were not entitled to the money.
The crimes were premeditated, took place on a large scale, and were difficult to detect because of the use of different bank accounts and account holders who were difficult to trace, the judge also remarked.
Defence lawyer Sisa Namandje represented Homses during her trial. State advocate Ed Marondedze prosecuted.