Disgraced Sharks COO to learn her fate soon

2014-10-21 00:00

AFTER 22 years of service at the Sharks, former chief operations officer, Leigh Heard’s fate is now in the hands of the CCMA.

Sharks board chairperson Stephen Saad confirmed that in an internal disciplinary hearing Heard was found guilty of serious acts of misconduct. She was reportedly found guilty of:

• claiming personal expenses against a company expense account and in so doing evading VAT and fringe benefits tax;

• paying herself a car allowance that was unauthorised; and

• conducting herself in a manner which was grossly negligent.

Heard was suspended at the start of the investigation, in April, until last month. She was dismissed on October 3 and subsequently lodged an application to the CCMA for an unfair dismissal.

“I wouldn’t be going to the CCMA if I wasn’t confident that I have a chance of turning things around,” Heard told The Witness yesterday.

She was apprehensive to comment on whether the practices she was accused of, were in fact accepted practices, as she feared she might jeopardise her CCMA case.

Her position as COO made her “the second most senior manager in the business”, according to Saad.

Despite the findings against her, Heard is confident that her appeal will go well, considering her many years of service.

“When the hierarchy changed, things became different. But there is no doubt in my mind that my loyalty, hard work and contributions were valued and I take responsibility for the mistakes I have made.”

She claims improper use of personal expense accounts had been “commonplace” at the union for a number of years.

Saad confirmed the union was not taking her claims lightly.

“Of course this has been taken seriously. However, none of these allegations are against current employees. We are investigating these and all other issues raised.”

Having worked at the Sharks since 1992, Heard has seen the union move from its infancy to becoming a globally-recognised franchise. “I have lived through the growth of the brand from when it was just the KZN Rugby Union and we only had 12 employees. I had a dream job; it was absolutely amazing and there was an incredible environment. But it has changed considerably since then.”

Despite the negative connotations of the situation, Saad believes that the current investigation will set a precedent that such practices will not be tolerated.

“This tough stand is a signal that poor governance has no home at the Sharks and we will go the distance to do what is right — in spite of the cost.”

Heard confirmed that no official hearing date has been set by the CCMA yet.

An overview of allegations brought against Heard:

• Making payments to herself that were not authorised.

• Misusing an expense account for personal use.

• Creating fake journal entries to hide personal expenses.

• Using the Sharks financial records to write off personal expenses.

Heard was charged with eight counts of misconduct and found guilty of the following three:

• Using an expense account for personal use without correct authorisation.

• Creating fake entries to hide personal expenses in order to minimise tax payments.

• Authorising a large payment (R143 500) to which she was not entitled.

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