R11M Covid-19 Relief Theft: Bookkeeper Sentenced To 135 Years

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Dishonest bookkeeper Lindelani Gumede has been sentenced to 135 years in prison for stealing millions of rand from the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) fund.

Gumede had earlier been found guilty in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, sitting in Palm Ridge, of 32 counts of theft involving over R11 million.

However, some sentences – totalling 135 years, were ordered to run concurrently, resulting in the errant bookkeeper having to spend only 20 years in prison.

During the height of the pandemic the Department of Labour, set up the TERS for five months to assist employers by paying a limited portion of employees’ salaries, where the employer had to close operations (completely/or partially) due to the National Lockdown.

Employers, registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), were required to make applications on behalf of their employees to the Department of Labour.

These benefits would then be paid directly to the employer who would then pay the employee(s).

The court found that Gumede stole the Covid-19 relief money by creating and submitting fraudulent applications for employees on the Covid-19 TERS system.

Gumede’s scam involved using the names of staff employed at companies that he provided bookkeeping services.

The companies included Country pies, LPG Clotilda (Pty) Ltd, Odonus Investments (Pty) Ltd and La Mela (Pty) Ltd.

It later transpired that none of these entities submitted applications for temporary relief funds from the Department of Labour.

Before sentencing, Senior State Advocate Frans Mhlongo pleaded with the court not to deviate from imposing the minimum prescribed sentence.

Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) applauded the investigating officer, Warrant Officer, Thamsanqa Kraai and Advocate Mhlongo for “securing a sentence that serves to teach the public that those days of abusing and misappropriating public coffers are over”.

The NPA added: “There will be dire consequences for perpetrators of such offences”.