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R3m tax scam lands 5 in court

Tuesday, 18 November 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Author: Lee Rondganger
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Author: Lee Rondganger (Iol)

A year-long investigation by the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and the police’s commercial crime unit snared five Durban women who allegedly swindled the taxman out of more than R3 million by submitting fake tax returns on behalf of dozens of people.

Nirvana Kawal, Melisha Singh, Samantha Naidoo, Vaneshree Maharaj and Nicola Singh have been charged with 233 counts of fraud, racketeering and tax evasion for allegedly running an "enterprise” that, according to investigators, they used to unlawfully enrich themselves.

The five who got wind that a police net was closing in on them, handed themselves over to KwaDukuza (Stanger) police yesterday. They were taken to the Durban Regional Court where they applied for bail.

According to the charge sheet handed to magistrate Vanitha Armu, Kawal is related to Melisha and Nicola Singh, while Maharaj and Naidoo are sisters.

It is alleged that between March and November 2012, the women filed 233 fake tax returns on behalf of scores of people.

Investigators claim the women allegedly approached various people in the KwaDakuza area and told them they were able to claim tax refunds from Sars. Some of the people were unemployed at the time and were told to register as taxpayers and to open bank accounts.

Once these details were given to the women, they allegedly submitted tax returns via the Sars e-filing system and claimed refunds for retirement annuity contributions, medical expenses and travel expenses.

Court papers show the women, through their alleged criminal enterprise, claimed tax refunds for up to nine years. By November 2012, they had allegedly illegally claimed R3.2m from Sars and took a percentage of the tax refunds paid out to the taxpayers.

A source close to the investigation said police seized computer hard drives and other documents from the homes of Kawal and Melisha Singh to build their investigation. the source said investigators believed the claimants were unaware they were getting tax refunds illegally. They would be called to testify.

Investigators believed the alleged fraudulent claims were the "tip of the iceberg” and hoped to link the women to other cases.

Senior state advocate, Selvan Govender, attached to the Specialised Tax Unit at the National Prosecuting Authority, told the court that Kawal and Melisha Singh were the "managers” of the enterprise, while the other women were used primarily to recruit potential claimants.

He asked the court to grant them R20 000 bail with strict conditions. For the other women, he requested R5 000 bail.

Kawal’s attorney (who did not want his name published) said his client had been "fully co-operative” with the police and had been aware of the investigation for more than a year. He said his client was unemployed and leased a flat in uMhlanga. Her husband, who worked for a retailer, earned R20 000 a month and they could at the most afford R10 000 bail, he said.

Attorney Rakesh Maharaj, who represented the four other accused, said they too had assisted the police and were willing to pay R5 000 bail.

Armu granted Kawal and Melisha Singh R10 000 bail and the rest R5 000 each. The women will return to court on February 4.

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