Court orders woman to pay back R700k of TERS funds used for personal benefit

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Long queues wind around SA Post Office buildings across the country as people wait to collect their grants.
Long queues wind around SA Post Office buildings across the country as people wait to collect their grants.
Jaco Marais/Netwerk24/File

A woman who managed to illegitimately get paid R700 000 in Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) grants has been ordered to repay the money, in a move the department of labour says sends a strong message to fraudsters.

An investigation showed that money meant for Ulwembu Business Services was in fact paid into the personal account of its human resources business partner Boitumelo Mashele, and used for her own benefit. Mashele was fired in September last year for pocketing the TERS funds.

This week, the Specialised Commercial Crime Court in Pretoria found her guilty of fraud and handed her a three-year suspended jail sentence.

She was also ordered to repay R215 000 to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) following the disposal of her house.

The R521 598.19 balance will be recovered from a preservation order obtained by the Asset Forfeiture Unit last year, according to the department.

The department further stated that Mashele's bank had alerted the UIF to suspicious financial transactions of the Covid-19 TERS funds, and preliminary investigations showed that the funds were spent on Mashele’s personal expenses. 

"Our continuous collaboration with different organisation such as law enforcement agencies and financial institutions adds value and credibility to our investigations leading to the apprehension of those who have defrauded the fund," UIF acting commissioner Mzie Yawa said.

According to the fund, this is the third successful conviction of Covid-19 TERS fraud and 16 more suspects have been arrested for similar crimes.

"The UIF has further identified 46 fraud cases through the 'follow-the-money project' and we are confident more arrests will be made soon," said Yawa.

TERS was introduced at the start of hard lockdown in 2020 and was suspended almost a year later in March 2021. The system has been beset with administrative problems and fraudulent payments. According to the Department of Labour, the UIF, which is administering the payments, has so far recovered more than R827 million in unlawful payments.

CORRECTION: This story's headline, introduction and second paragraph have been corrected to reflect that Boitumelo Mashele is not the owner of Ulwembu Business Services, as initially reported. Fin24 regrets the error.

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