Former IT Boss Exposes More MTN Mobile Money Rot

A case that they filed to serve justice to six of their former employees allegedly behind a Shs 10 billion fraud, has continued to put in the open a number of defects in the country’s biggest telecom company MTN Uganda.

The six led by one Patrick Sentongo , the 2011 MTN Finance Manager, are accused of creating fake e-money on the company mobile money accounts, and cashing it onto their own accounts in a number of smartly schemed shots.

Using their positions as top administrators, the accused allegedly took advantage of a frail Mobile Money computer system named Fundamo, to create fake journals (float requests) and went ahead to liquidate them.

The South African designed Fundamo system has since been shut down and replaced by another one by Ericsson.

In his three-day effort to pin the accused, MTN’s former Information Systems Manager  Phraise Lubega, has severally acknowledged existence of a number of flaws in not only mobile money system management but in the day to day running of business at MTN as a whole.

Yesterday, before the Anti-corruption court judge Lawrence Gidudu,  Mr Lubega’s evidence was being cross-examined  by the defense lawyers, and the session heard a number of daunting revelations.

ACCUSED: Patrick Sentongo [R] coonsults his lawyers Obed Mwebesa and his assistant Christine Tumuhairwe
ACCUSED: Patrick Sentongo [R] consults his lawyers Obed Mwebesa and his assistant Christine Tumuhairwe

Lubega informed court that the Fundamo system had started experiencing challenges a few months after Mobile Money was launched in the country in March 2009,  majorly due to congestion.

Subsequent reports in 2010 confirmed that Fundamo was indeed susceptible to foreign attacks and that customers savings were in great peril.

“The system was especially susceptible to what’s called ‘brute force attack,’ where a hacker tries every possible password until he finds the right one. If successful, they would get full access to the mobile money accounts,” he said.

Grilled further by lead defense counsel Obed Mwebesa, Mr Lubega owned up that the company lacked an elaborate exit procedure, to the effect that administrators who got sacked or left the company, remained with access to the computer system, and would easily infiltratE it if they wished. Their accounts remained open even after they left.

It also turned out in yesterday’s hearing that prosecution was unable to prove where Finance Manager Patrick Sentongo’s workstation was, because the 10th floor of the MTN Towers (where he supposedly sat) and many other floors had no installed CCTV cameras.

More than two security related company policies were highlighted, to which Mr Lubega admitted, were not signed by the employees they affected, even when they were obliged to.

In State’s earlier evidence, Mr Lubega had pinned Sentongo for holding more than one username which was apparently illegal, according the company policy.

Defense yesterday however, unearthed several other admins, who held multiple accounts on the Fundamo system, including one Flavia Nakasenge, who had four different usernames and had never been questioned.

“It is Clear from the reports you presented to us that at one point, password sharing by MTN users was a normal practice, which your policy claims is prohibited…,” pressed counsel Mwebesa, to which Lubega answered in the affirmative.

Fake evidence?

Speaking to our reporter after the session, Patrick Sentongo and one of his lawyers Christine Tumuhairwe stated that the whole case had been brought to cover up the rot inside the Telecom company.

He also claimed that while indeed the Shs 10.2 billion had been created in fake float, “some other people” were behind it.

“They are only victimizing the six of us. They are trying to run away from responsibility, and they will be exposed,” said Sentongo.

In yesterday’s hearing, court’s attention had been drawn to one of the statements allegedly made by witness Lubega to police detectives during investigation, which was never witnessed (signed or stamped) by any police officer. Counsel Mwebesa insisted this was part of the company’s concoctions to facilitate the case.

Mr Lubega also suspiciously admitted that Sentongo’s computer which was used in the scam, was submitted to police investigators. But pushed to pinpoint it, he claimed that its IP address was unknown.

Cross examination of the state witness continues tomorrow Thursday.

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