Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has welcomed the arrest this weekend of five suspects accused of being part of "the enterprise that scammed R5.7 million" from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) meant to provide relief for workers during the coronavirus (Covid-10) lockdown.
The five suspects were arrested in Pretoria in the early hours of Saturday morning by the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), commonly known as the Hawks.
“We welcome the swift action by the members of the law enforcement agencies in apprehending the people who are suspected of having defrauded their employer as well the UIF when they allegedly changed the banking details into which the relief money was supposed to be paid to," Nxesi said in a statement on Sunday.
“As we have indicated before, we will follow every cent that we have spent during this period. Working together with our internal auditors, the office of the auditor general, and our contracted forensic auditors as well as the law enforcement agencies, we are putting those who thought that the UIF was their source for easy money on notice. You will be found and you will be prosecuted,” Nxesi said.
On Saturday, Gauteng Hawks spokesman Colonel Katlego Mogale said the five suspects, two women and three men aged between 25 and 68, were arrested by the Hawks Gauteng serious commercial crimes unit.
"This is following an intensive investigation into a case registered at Brooklyn SAPS relating to the Unemployment Insurance Fund Covid-19 [temporary employer/employees relief scheme (Ters) benefit]," he said.
The suspects were traced to various residences in Shoshanguve, Atteridgeville, and Mamelodi in Pretoria. Five vehicles, including a Range Rover Evoque, were recovered from the scenes of the arrests, as well as other items suspected "to have been bought with the monies which weren't meant for the suspects".
The suspects would appear in the Pretoria Commercial Crimes Court on charges of fraud, theft, and money laundering on Monday, Mogale said.
Those arrested cannot be named until they have appeared in court. The case involves R5.7 million in UIF funds intended for 1,400 workers impacted by the Covid-19 national lockdown. The money was allegedly fraudulently paid into the bank account of one worker.
The money was then rapidly disbursed to friends and business associates of the recipient over the course of five days. The National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) Asset Forfeiture unit (AFU) and the UIF investigated the matter, and 28 bank accounts were subsequently frozen after an order was obtained in the High Court.