South African College Student Jailed After Spending $1 Million in Financial Aid on Shopping Sprees

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A gavel - Sputnik International, 1920, 31.03.2022
The South African accounting student initially came under the spotlight in 2017, some two months after having mistakenly received nearly $1 million in her bank account. Authorities had been tipped off after fellow students reported the undergrad's sudden change in lifestyle, such as her eye for pricey whiskey.
Sibongile Mani, a second-year accounting student from South Africa, was sentenced to prison after she spent nearly $1 million in financial aid on luxury goods following a clerical error that accidentally dumped the shocking sum into her bank account.
Judge Twanette Olivier, of the East London Regional Court, found Mani guilty of theft after she failed to report the R14 million that was accidentally credited to her account by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 2017.
Mani was supposed to receive only $96 a month for food but was accidentally given close to $1 million on June 1, 2017, as the result of an NSFAS clerical error. Mani was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday after she failed to report the accident, allegedly opting to go on a monthslong spending spree instead.
The items which Mani bought reportedly included: bras, wine, cake plates, four hair straighteners, cook wear, calculators, cutlery, dinner sets, handbags, cigarettes, framed mirrors, 11 microwaves, 13 backpack trolleys, 13 extension cords, 12 cordless kettles, 11 blankets, shoes, and slow cookers.
Mani spent nearly $1,000 a day during a monthlong shopping spree at 48 stores in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Gauteng before the NSFAS noticed the error on August 13 and reported her - over two months after the money first hit her account in 2017.
Olivier told Mani in court in February that the receipts from her shopping sprees indicated that "you had definitely planned per day as to how much you can spend per day in as many places as possible on any given date."
Olivier dismissed Mani’s claim that she didn’t intend to deprive the NSFAS of its funds, as well as her claim that she had no knowledge of the details of the loan between her and the NSFAS.
"[The theft] was well-orchestrated. Your actions do not speak of a person who lacks knowledge. The evidence of each witness was clear and direct. Each witness testified on the certain aspect of the process followed by WSU, NSFAS and Intellimali per duties and tasks. Witness testimonies were further collaborated by documented evidence which was placed on record in detail,” said Olivier.
Fellow students of the Walter Sisulu University say they reported Mani after they became suspicious of her new lifestyle, which included a new iPhone, a luxurious weave, and a newfound fondness for expensive whiskey.
The judge told Mani that over 500 students who attend Walther Sisulu University would have suffered due to the theft if the NSFAS had not been willing to cover the loss. Olivier determined that Mani’s spending was on nonessentials, saying the shopping sprees were “inspired by greed, not need.”
Mani, 31, will serve a third of her five-year sentence before she is eligible for parole consideration.
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