The transaction for the Sweet Girl dearest.
Fred Ma and his brother-in-law David Ngubane, an ANC member of the national assembly in southern Limpopo province, wanted to buy an expensive pearl pink diamond. Not a traditional purchase for someone living in a developing country, but Ngubane decided that importing the diamond would generate plenty of publicity in Africa.
The easiest way to do this was to use Pink Congo, a high-end e-commerce site based in the United States. To achieve this, the Ma brothers hired Chimango Dumbo, a Canadian-registered company and Pink Congo’s supposed contact, as their online sales manager.
Dumbo claimed to deal directly with Pink Congo founder Gil Saleh over e-mail, and Ma gave her the money for the purchase. In January, the Ma brothers received a receipt from Pink Congo, and paid $53,785 in Canadian dollars.
Dumbo disappeared after this, with the money transferred to yet another company, WorldCoin.
When the Ma brothers contacted Pink Congo and asked for their money back, they were told that they had accidentally paid it to Dumbo, not Saleh.
“We went to them. They were very kind and accepted our apology and started refunding our money,” Ma told Wired. However, the Ma brothers did not receive the refund for a month, and they suspected that it was another fake transaction.
“They were very suspicious,” he said. “They called Gil [Saleh] and asked him: Where is the money?”
They received a response from Saleh that he had paid the money into Canada, though he didn’t provide any more details. When they questioned him about it, he tried to hang up on them, but David Ngubane dialed the number again. This time, Saleh answered the phone and the Ma brothers explained that their money was in Canada, but that they wanted to return it to the money transfer company they used to pay the dealer.
“He asked me to go and find the money transfer company. He said he will give me back all my money, but he didn’t tell me his name,” Ma said. “I found this ‘corp’ in Johannesburg.”
Saleh said the Ma brothers could not get any more money out of him than $5,000, but he would send “something good.” The Ma brothers paid the “corp” directly, then tried their luck with a local pawnbroker, who turned them down as too well-connected. Finally, they spoke to the fake impersonator, who was willing to take the money at the bank.
“He said, ‘I don’t like wearing big diamonds, but I understand that you are broke, so I can give you all the money today. I’ll give you $11,000, plus another $10,000 in cash so you can give it to Gil,’” Ma recalled. “I trusted him, because I saw a sign with his picture, and he looked very friendly.”
On Feb. 9, Ma had to take a plane to Johannesburg to give the money back to Saleh.
“I was trapped in a very bad position,” he said. “I could not ask the president’s son. I could not do anything. I had no options. I’ve been living a very hard life in this country. This money could not pay for my family, so I had to give it back.”
The Ma brothers are now seeking compensation from Pink Congo, as well as the companies that enabled them to think the deal would be legitimate.
“I don’t want to hurt Gil. I don’t want to see Gil in front of me,” Ma said. “I don’t want to put him out of business.”