Minister Dean Macpherson said Wednesday that cyberattackers allegedly stole 300 million South African rand (about 16.6 million US dollars) from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure over the past 10 years.

The amount could be more as investigations continue, Macpherson said in a statement.

According to him, cybercriminals stole 24 million rand from the department in May this year, reported Xinhua news agency.

The minister said he has asked the South African Police Service, State Security Agency as well as experts in the information and communications technology and cybersecurity industry to investigate the matter.

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“It has become clear that the department has been a soft target and playground for cyber criminals for over a 10-year period and this should have been picked up a lot earlier,” Macpherson said, adding that those responsible for protecting the department from cyber criminals must be held accountable.

Four officials from the department, including three senior management officials and one middle management official, have been suspended, and the investigators have seized 30 laptops. “The cyber theft forced the department to shut down its payment system, thereby delaying paying its creditors,” said Macpherson.

The investigation will be expanded and deepened to find the masterminds and the beneficiaries of this grand theft, Macpherson said.

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