Wits welcomes former WRHI deputy executive director’s guilty plea

Photo: Corbis Images.

 

The former deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI), Eugene Sickle (47) pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering following his arrest in Washington DC, earlier this year.

Sickle is said to have embezzled more than $200 000 (about R2 650 000) from the institute before skipping the country en route to the US in February.

The relevant US authorities were, however, immediately alerted, resulting in Sickle’s arrest. The funds are said to have been meant for a programme that promotes safer childbirth practices in South Africa.

“The former Deputy Executive Director stole money which was meant to fund specific programmes in South Africa,” Wits University spokesperson, Shirona Patel told City Buzz. “These programmes weren’t undertaken even though he’d put in the relevant proposals for them.”

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Patel added that following the transaction, sophisticated financial systems were able to detect the irregularities. “The minute we picked it up, we approached the Deputy Director and he resigned immediately. We then approached KPMG (a global consortium specialising in audit, tax and advisory services) and requested that they conduct a forensic audit that dates back five years. However, they could not find any other irregularities.

“Since then, we’ve been cooperating with everyone from the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) to the US-based investigation agencies. We’ve also opened a case with the South African Police.”

Patel further added that Wits welcomes Sickle’s guilty plea. “This should serve as a deterrent for anyone else attempting to steal any funds from the university. We have a zero tolerance policy towards fraud of any kind, particularly in this case when it involved funds that needed to be directed towards saving the lives of women and children. As a university, we’ve done all we could to cooperate with the relevant authorities and will continue to do so until the sentencing of the former deputy director later this year.

“However given his guilty plea, he will have to pay back every cent that he has stolen from the institute in addition to a possible prison sentence of six to 12 months.” Sickle’s sentencing is expected to be handed down in a US court on 1 August.

Tell us what you think would serve as a just sentence for the former deputy executive director by simply adding 079 4395 345 to your WhatsApp contact list. Use the hashtag #WRHI

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