South Africa News

Farmer who allegedly defrauded Ters fund expected back in court

A Graafwater farmer who is alleged to have exploited vulnerable workers and defrauded the UIF Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) fund, is expected back in court next month.

The Dagbreek Farm farmer was granted R5 000 bail during a brief appearance at the Clanwilliam Magistrate’s Court last week, following his arrest on September 16.

The Department of Employment and Labour had worked with police to track down the farmer who allegedly defrauded the fund of R109 376.39, claiming Ters for seven employees for the period of March 27 until September 15, without their knowledge.

Former Graafwater police officer Jim Swartz and Rural and Farmworkers Development Organization Executive Director Billy Claasen had raised the alarm with authorities in November last year.

Swartz said his brother who worked on the farm wondered why the farmer had not lodged a police complaint against an employee who apparently ran off with R4 000 when they were expected to pay back money that was “accidentally” paid into their accounts by the farmer.

The farmer would allegedly alert them, say the money was accidentally paid to them, take them to the ATM, let them withdraw the money and pay it to him.

The department’s Western Cape Provincial Chief Inspector (PCI), David Esau said a physical visit was conducted on the farm at the time but the gates were locked and nobody was visible, with the Department and police working to track the farmer down.

Esau said the inspectorate found that the employer declared salaries for all seven employees from March to September 2020, which indicates that the employees were fully employed as the Agriculture sector was declared an essential service and therefore not affected by the lockdown regulations.

Based on this information, Esau said the employer was not allowed to claim from the Ters fund and the employees were not entitled to the money.

He said the Department is in possession of some workers bank statements where the money was paid into their bank account from the employer’s account. The last transaction took place on October 22 last year.

“Some employees had limits on their transactions and the employer proceeded to make deductions from their salaries to make up for the amount outstanding. Our records indicate that at no stage did the employer return the money to the Fund,” added Esau.

The matter was postponed to October 20 for further investigation.

While Claasen on Sunday said he welcomed the arrest, he questioned why authorities took time to take action and their treatment of the farmer.

“While we welcome the arrest, we are also unhappy about the preferred treatment the farmer got. (Authorities) will arrest other people at their homes but alerted this farmer to come to Clanwilliam court where he was arrested and then released. He was accompanied by his lawyer. This is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Claasen called for police and the department to probe other allegations of farmers taking similar alleged advantage of workers.

Police said they would respond in due course.

-Cape Times

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