Ten people have been slapped with direct imprisonment or suspended sentences for defrauding the COVID-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief (TERS) scheme of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
The details were revealed on Wednesday, 28 September 2022, when the UIF and Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, attended a meeting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour.
Presenting to the Committee, UIF Commissioner, Teboho Maruping, revealed that the 10 people were convicted and sentenced to direct imprisonment or suspended sentences for fraud, theft, and money laundering in relation to the COVID-19 TERS between 2021/22 and the current 2022/23 financial year.
The most prominent and recent cases included the 20 years’ direct imprisonment of bookkeeper Lindelani Gumede for R11 million COVID-19 TERS fraud. He was given a 135-year jail term in August this year.
According to reports, Gumede, who was arrested in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, in August last year after an investigation by the Hawks, processed fraudulent TERS claims on behalf of four Gauteng bakeries, including Country Pies and LPG Clotilda.
The other convictions include the convictions of Moroko Moremi and his wife Treasure Moremi for their involvement in the R10 million fraud. This was after the couple, who are directors of Denmeng Trading, applied for COVID-19 TERS for 553 workers when they only employed 22.
The TERS fund was an effort by government to cushion the impact of the pandemic on businesses.
The Commissioner also informed Parliament that the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) had recovered R133 million from various companies and individuals, with R123 million already returned to the UIF.
Meanwhile, R3.4 billion was also returned to the UIF as part of Phase 1 of the COVID-19 TERS “follow the money” project.
Minister Nxesi has praised the Department’s Risk Management officials, the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for their tireless efforts in bringing the fraudsters to justice.
“We are grateful to law enforcement for their collaborative efforts in arresting and prosecuting those who helped themselves to funds meant for distressed workers during the devastating Covid-19 lockdowns when employees lost their income,” said the Minister.
“I hope that the convictions and prison sentences serve as a deterrent to others who might consider stealing from the UIF. We will continue to pursue anyone suspected of defrauding the fund,” he added.
He also welcomed the recent arrest of one official in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We cannot afford to have officials involved in defrauding our institutions. I urge all within the Department of Employment and Labour family to refrain from actions that could be construed as acts of corruption.”
According to the data, at least 30 people have been arrested for COVID-19 TERS-related offences so far.
More arrests are expected as Phase 2 of the “follow the money” project, which began in July 2022, continues.