How Tshepang Phohole allegedly blew R5.68m UIF money in five days
Andile Sicetsha

Tshepang Phohole and five other suspects, one of which is a company, have been granted bail after they appeared for 30 criminal charges related to the infamous R5.68 million UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) Covid-19 Relief Fund scam.

Tshepang Howard Phohole (25), Taetso Zulu (22), Tsietsi Godfrey Mojela (68), Itumeleng Charlene Maseko (39), Tebogo Andries Nchimane Maseko (40) and Dilsfinest Cafe (PTY) Ltd, made their first appearance at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Monday to register charges laid against them for their involvement in the defrauding of state funds which were allocated towards helping those negatively impacted by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

UIF Covid-19 Relief Fund heist: How was R5.68 million stolen?

Following the brief court appearance, all suspects in the case were released on R5 000 bail. Their next appearance has been scheduled for Monday 7 September 2020.

This will allow the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), working in tandem with the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), to gather all the forensic evidence that ties the six suspect to one of the world’s first money laundering cases linked to Covid-19.

According to Sunday Times, alerts were raised when R5.68 million in a Covid-19 Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (Ters) claim was paid to 25-year-old Phohole.

Whether this was an internal error or an act of deceit from an insider at the Department of Labour is at the centre of the investigation.

One thing is clear, though, The monies Tshepang Phohole received were intended for employees of Pretoria labour broker CSG Resources.

Nobody knows how it happened but, for some reason, the approved payment for CSG found its way into the account of Phohole, an approved recipient of the UIF Covid-19 Relief Fund.

How Tshepang Phohole allegedly blew R5.68 million in five days

In early May, all that Phohole had in his name was a R12.46 positive balance in his Capitec bank account. However, a few days later, he was an instant millionaire, boasting a total of R5 688 814.66 that was paid from the UIF’s Ters fund.

The NPA’s argument is that if Phohole knew nothing about this large sum of money, seemingly dumped by accident into his account, he would not have moved it around so quickly.

in a matter of days, Phohole found a way to spend R3.4 million. How did he allegedly do it? Here’s a timeline of events provided by the NPA prosecutor Sipho Ngwema and the AFU:

Shortly after receiving the lump sum of cash, it’s believed Phohole immediately started channelling the stolen UIF money to a small network of his friends.

Court papers seen by the cited newspaper claim that four of his friends (Zulu, Mojela and the two Masekos) were allegedly paid out R5.5 million in tranches.

Of that money, Tebogo Maseko allegedly received R2.3 million which he allegedly tried to launder through his DI LS Finest Cafe business in Soshanguve, Tshwane.

By May 27, when the Financial Intelligence Centre had caught up to Phohole and froze his account, all he had left in his Capitec bank account was R7 155.86.

A further R100,201.33 was discovered in a Capitec bank account recently opened in his name.

According to Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale, some of the money was allegedly used to finance a shortlived lavish lifestyle.

“Five vehicles including a [Range Rover] Evoque were recovered from the scenes as well as other items suspected to have been bought with the monies which were not meant for the suspects,” Colonel Mogale noted in a statement.

The AFU has managed to freeze as many as 28 bank accounts linked to the stolen money’s paper trail. However, the question that remains is: What happened to the missing R2.4 million and why can’t authorities trace its whereabouts?

Furthermore, a systemic change in the Dept. of Labour’s UIF/Ters payment process is what initiated the alleged scam. The NPA’s Ngwema confirmed that an internal investigation has been launched in the department to ascertain if a mole tied to the suspects had infiltrated the system.

“We are investigating whether there was complicity on the part of those working at the UIF. There is a suspicion that there may have been criminal activity between UIF officials and the end recipient of the money. it is an area of focus for investigators,” he said.

At this time, no employee of the Dept. of Labour has been charged with the crimes related to this case.