Refilwe Kgaje, 40, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for fraud and a further 15 years imprisonment on another charge of fraud in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, sitting in Palm Ridge, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.
The 15-year sentence is suspended for five years.
The court also sentenced her 45-year-old husband Isaac Phiri to 15 years direct imprisonment for fraud.
Additionally, Kgaje and her company, Pusoloso Engineering Services, were fined R100,000 on two counts of fraud.
Spokesperson for the NPA in Gauteng, Phindi Mjonondwane said between August 2020 and March 2021, in Johannesburg, the three - Kgaje, Phiri and the company Pusoloso Engineering Services - unlawfully submitted names of 95 “employees” who were not working for Pusoloso Engineering Services to the labour department.
“The accused made an application to the department of labour, on behalf of the fictitious employees they sent to benefit from the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was done under false representation, to defraud the department of labour,” said Mjonondwane.
The department paid an amount of over R600, 000 to a bank account which belonged to Phiri.
“The funds were not due to Phiri for distribution amongst the employees and were not supposed to be deposited into his bank account,” said Mjonondwane.
The NPA said Phiri and Kgaje handed themselves over to the police after one of the people whose details they had used in their application to the labour department wanted to register for the R350 Covid-19 relief grant, and the system picked that they work for the Pusoloso Engineering Services.
The individual went to open a case, and that is when the labour department began investigations.
“Responding to the lockdown strategy, the department of labour triggered the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) categorised as the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) to alleviate the plight of employees caused by Covid-19,” the NPA added.
In arguing for a strict sentence, State Advocate Vincent Ndzuke argued that when the court hands down a sentence, it must fit the crime and the court must not underemphasise the seriousness of the offence.
Ndzuke stated that if “too lenient” sentences are imposed for serious offences, this will erode the confidence the public has in the criminal justice system.
In the end, Mjonondwane said the NPA has welcomed the sentence, and justice has been served.
“The NPA extends its gratitude to State advocate Vincent Ndzuke and investigating officer Tlou Nailana for ensuring that justice is served,” she said.
“We welcome the sentence and hope that this will send a clear message to the public that crimes of this nature will not be tolerated.”