Online banking glitch sees couple R850,000 richer
But the windfall was fleeting as judge doesn't believe their claim they gave the cash back to a now-dead bank manager
There’ll be little laughter for a Kokstad couple who have been ordered to pay back more than R850,000 which funneled into their accounts as part of an online banking glitch.
Sicelo and Nikita Khopho must have been bemused when deposits into their accounts – made from FirstRand Bank’s online platform over the course of six months in 2012 and 2013 – mysteriously doubled.
Khopho would, the court heard, make payments to his wife and to other bank accounts they controlled – with an identical amount “duplicated” from the bank’s own coffers.
When the bank cottoned on and hauled them to court, he testified that he had withdrawn bundles of cash and left them with a bank manager in the KwaZulu-Natal hinterland town.
By the time the matter found its way before a judge, the bank manager had died and couldn’t corroborate his claims, leaving the sitting judge to find in favour of the couple – believing his story that the money had been repaid.
But FirstRand took the matter on appeal, and a full bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court found the repayment story rang hollow and was likely to be a ruse.
In delivering his ruling, Judge Trevor Gorven examined how the first court had found in favour of the couple.
At first the pair denied there had been a duplication of bank transfers. They also denied having received money that was not due to them.
When the trial started this all changed, with the Khophos acknowledging that something was amiss in their banking affairs. “In his evidence, Sicelo Khopho claimed to have given certain sums of money in cash one Mrs Thomas, a bank manager employed by FirstRand in Kokstad. By the time the matter came to trial, Mrs Thomas had died. Khopho was unable to say how much money had been handed to her. He could not give dates. He testified that no receipts were requested or given because he trusted Mrs Thomas.”
After abandoning their blanket denial and admitting they had been double paid, Gorven found, the onus shifted to the Khophos to prove they had paid the money back.
“Khopho said he had withdrawn some of the duplicate payments from the account into which it was transferred and taken it in cash to her [Thomas]. Because she could not trace the payments as having come from the bank, she suggested that she keep it in a safe in case a claim was made.
“She then [according to Khopho] entered the amounts given to her into a diary and put the money into a safe. Because Khopho did not regard it as his money, he did not ask for a receipt. Some of the duplicate payments could not be withdrawn at the ATM machine so not all of the amounts were given to Mrs Thomas,” Gorven found.
Gorven ruled that Khopho’s version of events was underscored by “inherent improbabilities” which were not considered by the initial trial judge.
“If, in fact, Mrs Thomas had taken cash from Khopho, no prudent bank manager would have done so without issuing a receipt. If she had not done so and had kept a list of the amounts in a diary, it would have been an official diary and have been kept in a safe place and not destroyed,” he said.
“Any cash kept by a bank against a claim being made would have to be accounted for. A bank manager confronted with the situation described by Khopho would have taken copies of the bank statements into which the transfers were made and have investigated.”
Gorven added that a perusal of Khopho’s cash withdrawals showed that few, if any, matched the duplicated amounts and were generally less.
“Khopho’s version of the same amounts being withdrawn is not borne out by the bank statements. It is further inconceivable that, on receipt of the summons, the couple would not have immediately raised this defence. Apart from these inherent improbabilities, the fact that this version was never raised until the Khopho stepped into the witness box, allied to the bank employee being deceased, raises more than a question mark as to the veracity of the account.
“It gives rise to the inference that it was a recent fabrication. The strategy of raising it only at that stage meant that the bank was not given any opportunity to investigate it, search for documents or cash in the safe or counter the version.”
He found that the judge who first heard the case had erred, and never should have accepted Khopho’s version of events.
Gorven ordered that Sicelo Khopho repay R541,940 and Nikita Khopho pay back R320,000. Both amounts were calculated with interest.