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Businesswoman faces fraud, theft charges over R1m lockdown relief scheme claim

NT Fraud

NT Fraud

Published Apr 10, 2022


DURBAN - At the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, as many struggled to put food on the table, a businesswoman from Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal saw an opportunity to swindle the state out of R1 million in relief funds by making claims for non-existent employees.

Phathiswa Bodlani, 38, from Valley View, the managing director of PhaBodlani Pty Ltd, appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Wednesday, facing charges of fraud and theft.

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NT Fraud

According to the charge sheet, Bodlani allegedly applied for the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) for 49 workers between April 2020 and August 2020.

The TERS fund came into existence in March 2020, when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a National State of Disaster due to the spreading pandemic.

In light of this declaration, the employment and labour minister announced the establishment of the TERS fund, allowing a special benefit to UIF contributors who had lost their income due to the pandemic.

Through her company, Bodlani allegedly submitted names and ID numbers of people who were not in her employ, and received a total of R1 009 338. The money was deposited into her Ithala bank account.

Court papers also reveal that Bodlani's company was registered in November 2019 with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), and that she only registered with the UIF on July 27, 2020, after the TERS was introduced.

In her affidavit, Bodlani submitted that her company specialised in construction and catering, and that it had an average profit of R10 000 a month depending on business.

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Phathiswa Bodlani has been accused of defrauding the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme. PIC: Facebook

However, when the Sunday Tribune attempted to verify the business address provided to the court, a person at the property said they had no knowledge of Bodlani or her company.

The business also did not have an internet profile or presence.

Bodlani, in her affidavit, claimed she was innocent, and appealed to the court to consider her righteous actions of refunding the money she was alleged to have stolen.

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“I wish to state that after I had become aware of irregular deposits into my company account, I immediately contacted the Department of Labour, who themselves conducted their investigations and I refunded the money back to them. This was done at my instance and my own volition. I intend to plead not guilty in this matter. I will deal with this fully at my subsequent trial,” she stated.

Attempts to reach Bodlani through her legal representative, advocate TJ Nene, were unsuccessful.

A man who answered her cell phone and identified himself as her brother, told the Sunday Tribune that she was not available.

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Bodlani is out on R5 000 bail and set to appear in court again next month.

UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said that through the UIF’s “follow the money” process, which entailed auditing all Covid-19 payments, it was discovered that some of the people Bodlani had applied for were not her employees.

“Our joint efforts with law enforcement agencies at the Fusion Centre are truly bearing fruit, and I hope this latest arrest serves as a severe deterrent to other would-be criminals that you will be apprehended and face the consequences.

"We will not rest until we have followed and accounted for every cent and rand that was paid through Covid-19 TERS, and where wrongdoing is uncovered, the law must take its course,” said Maruping.

“We welcome this latest Covid-19 TERS-related arrest and praise the fund’s auditors and Hawks for their rigorous toils to bring the suspect to justice.”

Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo, spokesperson for the Hawks, said when the Labour Department discovered that some of the registered employees were not working for her company, a case of fraud was reported at the Durban Central police station and the case docket was allocated to Hawks members for further investigation.