30 April 2018

Lesotho: College, Students Conned

DONA@BALOS Chef and Hospitality School, is in dire straits after it lost M845 000 worth of school fees to an alleged fraudster who conned the administration into signing a fake Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for scholarships.

The institution was in May 2017 enticed into signing the MOU with a non-existent South African company identified as Edu-Fund so that it would sponsor 13 of its students.

The college charges M65 000 for each student for an 18-months diploma and Edu-Fund reportedly pledged to settle the bill total of M845 000.

In return for sponsoring the students, the company's primary funders - which were said to be well established food and beverages brands - would hire the 13 after their graduation.

In addition, the beneficiaries were also asked to pay a "bursary administration" fee of M1500. The money was paid directly to the alleged fraudster, Ntea Sello.

As a result of this scam, the college has failed to pay its rentals and now owes Thetsane Office Park over M200 000 and has since been forced to vacate some of the rooms. The school has been forced to turn its restaurant at the same premises into a classroom.

Dona@Balos owner, Donald Moletsane, said Ms Sello approached his school last May and made him to understand that Edu-Fund had identified the institution as one of the schools whose students would benefit from its scholarship.

Mr Moletsane, who is also a chef, said Ms Sello indicated that Edu-Fund was headquartered in South Africa and intended to expand its operations in the country.

"She said Edu-Fund was willing to sponsor Dona@Balos students and in return she demanded a bursary administration fee of M1500 from each student," Mr Moletsane said.

"The 13 students fell victim to the scam which in return led to the school's loss of M845 000 in school fees and over M200 000 in rentals.

"We have been working hard to source bursaries for our students so when Ms Sello approached us we felt she was a lifesaver. Her presentation was convincing and I think she had also done her homework about the school."

After paying the M1500 bursary administration fees, the 13 students were given proof letters to take to school as Edu-Fund's approval for the sponsorship.

Mr Moletsane however said Ms Sello became dodgy and gave excuses after the school began inquiring about the payments.

"She made excuses and said the funds were delayed since they were coming from South Africa and also since our relationship was new. She said Edu-Fund resources came from established food and beverages brands seeking to absorb the sponsored students after their graduation."

He said they only learnt that they had been cheated on 1 November, 2017 when Facebook whistle blower, Makhaola Qalo, alerted the public of Ms Sello's scamming tactics.

Qalo wrote: "A company operating from BNP Centre has scammed over 100 Basotho M1 500 each as administration fee and that money is deposited into a personal account of Ntea Sello".

"Poor students, some of who are as far as China are now stranded. May the parents of the affected quickly report to the Police Headquarters in the Fraud department with proof of payment (to Ms Sello).

"Ntea, do yourself a favour and report yourself to the same office. Again, you still remember some of your escapades which took you straight to the female correctional service?" Subsequently, Mr Moletsane then drove to Braamfontein, South Africa - a place Ms Sello alleged that Edu-Fund operates from to investigate.

"I found nothing of that nature. I then reported the matter to the police's fraud department in Maseru and she was briefly arrested. We followed up we were told that the police were still gathering evidence even though we had presented our part."

Meanwhile, one of Ms Sello's victims posted on Facebook on 18 January alleging that he had lost M4500 to her for registration, qualifications standardisation and bursary administration fee.

This reporter contacted Ms Sello pretending to be a student seeking a scholarship and she said she was busy "sorting out some minor issues and would call back in three-weeks' time to confirm the bursary".

Contacted for comment, police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, confirmed the matter was reported to the police and has since been moved to the courts.

"There was such a case pertaining to Ms Sello but after her arrest, she was taken to court and the courts are now dealing with the matter," Superintendent Mopeli said adding that more people were still reporting.

Dona@Balos head of administration, Ikhetheleng Tebelo, said they would continue teaching the affected students despite the scam.

He said they were also engaging some local hotels who could assist the students so that they in turn work for them after graduation.

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