Stranger than fiction: Poor Malawian farmer's money disappears in bank!

"On 5 December, 2020 something at the bank happened, according to the bank statements he has shown me. His K2,021,985.34 disappeared!"

Malawian social commentator, Onjezani Kenani wrires:

Mr. Kitmass Ngoleka is a farmer from Lumbadzi, in the outer reaches of Lilongwe city.

On 14 January 2020, after selling his maize, he decided to open a bank account at First Capital Bank, or FCB in short, in Lilongwe’s City Centre.

He had been bombarded by numerous adverts on the radio, which said that keeping money at the bank is the wisest thing to do. And in his telling, he settled on First Capital Bank, as it seemed to be the best among many.

In the course of one year, he made deposits – no withdrawal, only deposits – nine in total, and by 4 December 2020, his balance was K2,021,985.34. All from selling his maize.

Then on 5 December, something at the bank happened, according to the bank statements he has shown me.

His money disappeared!

On the date the money disappeared, Mr. Ngoleka did not know anything. He was home, waiting, like everyone else, for Christmas. In fact, because of his lack of knowledge about what had happened, he sent his brother, Charles, at the beginning of January 2021, to deposit K100,000, and then his sister, Edna, to deposit K500,000.

It then turned out that one of the sisters wanted to borrow some money, about K600,000, to inject capital in a business of hers that was going through troubled waters, with a promise to pay back as soon as she was able.

For the first time, Mr. Kitmass Ngoleka decided to go to the bank to withdraw the money.

In the banking hall, the first thing he wanted to do was to know the balance.

The teller wrote down the number: K621,500.61.

He thought his eyes were deceiving him. He asked the teller: “Surely there is a mistake?”

“No, sir,” the teller said in her friendly voice, smiling a little. “That is your balance today.”

Mr. Ngoleka’s heart thumped. “You must be joking, right?” he said.

“That is your balance, sir.” The teller went on to explain to him: “Look, on 5 December, you made all these withdrawals through Airtel Money, totalling K2 million. If you want, I can print the statements for K6,000.”

Mr. Ngoleka agreed to have his statements printed.

To his dismay, the money had indeed been siphoned out of his bank account using the following Airtel Money numbers:

+265 995 727 359

+265 995 798 051

+265 997 476 978

+265 995 276 446

None of the numbers belonged to him.

To have your bank account linked to your Airtel Money account, you have to sign a form at the bank, which Mr. Ngoleka never did. In fact, as already said, he never made even a single withdrawal.

The bank advised him to go to the police.

When he went to the police, the police – perhaps after seeing that he is a poor man from the village – did nothing to help. They simply wrote a letter, reaffirming the story he had told them.

After that, he went back to the bank, went to Airtel, went back to the bank, nothing. The bank has told him it will do nothing about it, and he can go anywhere in the world to complain.

He withdrew the K615,500.61 that remained, before they could steal it again from him.

Through a young man called Chifuniro, he decided to bring the matter to my attention. I decided to take up this case because I have made it my mission to help the poor. First Capital Bank must pay back this money to Mr. Ngoleka. It was the bank’s duty to protect Mr. Ngoleka’s money from thieves.

How was this theft possible without collusion with someone within the bank? With all those know-your-client procedures, how did FCB approve the linkage to all these numbers?

Ndalama za osauka mubweza. We cannot allow you to steal from the poor like that.

I hope there is a lawyer out there who is willing to take this case pro bono. A trustworthy lawyer, not someone who will steal from Mr. Ngoleka. Mr. Ngoleka has told me that he does not have the money to pay for a lawyer.

I can see that banks are busy trying to convince village banks to deposit their money with them. Will the money be safe?

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