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Thursday, 11 July 2024 11:29

De Lille pleads innoncence to R300m cyber heist at public works department.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Patricia de Lille says she will meet with Department Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) Minister, Dean Macpherson, following a revelation that hackers stole R300 million from the department over 10 years.

Earlier this week, Macpherson said in the latest incident, in May 2024, cyber attackers stole a further R24 million.

This prompted a full forensic investigation by the Hawks, South African Police Services, State Security Agency and experts in the ICT and cyber security industry.

It comes amid growing concern over the country's vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

Macpherson said four of the department's officials have already been placed on precautionary suspension.

"It has become clear that the department has been a soft target and playground for cyber criminals for over a 10-year period and this should have been picked up a lot earlier. I felt it important to let South Africa know what has happened and what we are doing about it. I cannot discount the possibility of collusion between officials and criminals in this prolonged period of theft. It is clear that we need better financial controls which I have said to the department are a matter of urgency.

"We want to put a stop to this immediately because we cannot allow our department to be subjected to unchecked looting. This is money that could have been spent on our infrastructure drive to improve the lives of South Africans. The investigation will be expanded and deepened to find the masterminds and the beneficiaries of this grand theft, and I want to see them in prison", added Minister Macpherson.  

"I further welcome the initial swift investigation launched by my predecessor and now deputy minister Sihle Zikalala. The department has suffered a massive financial loss and those responsible for protecting us from cyber criminals must be held to account.

The cybercrime theft occurred during the period which saw De Lille leading the department as the Minister in that portfolio.

De Lille, currently Minister of Tourism, said she will further request a copy of the report for the period relevant to her time at the DPWI.

"I hereby wish to state that I was the Minister of DPWI for just under four years, there were two other Ministers at DPWI during the 10-year period referred to in the new Minister's statement.

"During my time, I was able to recover R253m related to leases where government was overcharged. I had an agreement with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), who seconded two SIU officials to help investigate all allegations in DPWI," De Lille said in a short statement.

She added that once she has seen the report, relevant to her time in office, she will be able to respond further.

De Lille headed the department from (30 May 2019 to 6 March 2023) and Thulas Nxesi (26 February 2018 to 29 May 2019).

Macpherson has committed to working tirelessly to ensure the reinforcement of the cyber security systems within the department, so that similar incidents are prevented in future.