JSE- and Nasdaq-listed technology company Net1 UEPS Technologies on Friday issued a statement to shareholders saying its long-serving chairman and CEO, Serge Belamant, was duped into thinking he had a PhD.
In a statement issued on the JSE’s stock exchange news service, Net1 said its board of directors had “become aware of recent allegations posted on social media questioning the validity of the honorary PhD in information technology and management conferred by Burkes University upon [Belamant]”.
After investigation, the board found that Belamant, who has long used the title “Dr” in front of his name, was likely to have been the “unfortunate victim of a scam and that the honorary degree was not legitimate”. The company denied any wrongdoing on the part of its CEO.
According to the statement from the company, the board examined e-mail correspondence between Belamant and Burkes University, the institution which purportedly bestowed the honorary doctorate on him. It made an “attempt to obtain any available information about Burkes University”, it said.
“Based on this review, it appears that in early May 2003, Belamant received an e-mail from a person who appeared to be associated with ‘Burkes University’ stating that he had been ‘short-listed by the honorary doctorates committee’ for the conferment of an honorary doctorate degree. After receiving this correspondence, Belamant responded by asking for details about the selection criteria and process. Belamant received a response that discussed criteria, which appeared to him to be relevant to the awarding of an honorary degree,” the Net1 statement said.
“Belamant provided the information that he was asked to submit, including proof of his memberships of professional societies, his academic records, patents he filed, his nomination for the South African chapter of the World Entrepreneur of the Year award and his work published in information security textbooks.
“Belamant recalls making a donation to what he believed was a foundation associated with Burkes University. On May 23, 2003, the honorary degree was awarded to Belamant. Attempts to obtain information about Burkes University revealed that, according to the Higher Education Degree Datacheck website, Burkes University is currently referred to as ‘not a valid UK degree awarding body’. Further, there is no current website for Burkes University.”
The board said of the embarrassing turn of events that it believes Belamant “followed the honorary degree award process in good faith and that at the time Belamant did not doubt the integrity of the process or the validity of the degree”.
“However, in light of the review, Belamant and the board have come to the conclusion that it is likely that Belamant was the unfortunate victim of a scam and that the honorary degree was not legitimate.”
The fake PhD scandal is the latest controversy to rock Net1.
In 2014, the constitutional court ordered the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to reissue the tender amid the agency’s “irregular” conduct in awarding the contract to Net1 subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).
Net1 has also come under fire for selling mobile airtime and loans to social grant recipients.
Amid controversies dogging Net1, the company announced last year that it doesn’t plan to reapply for the Sassa tender.
CPS is subsequently expected to hang on to the contract until its expiry in 2017, as Sassa told Fin24 last year that it plans to take over the social grants distribution thereafter.
Report by TechCentral, with additional reporting from Fin24