Former beauty queen facing time behind bars

Debbie Braun was one of the finalist in the 2013 Miss South Africa pageant.
Debbie Braun from Hout Bay has been arrested and charged by Hawks after allegedly defrauding the COVID-19 Temporary Employer and Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).

A former Miss South African finalist from Hout Bay has landed in hot water for allegedly defrauding the COVID-19 Temporary Employer and Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).

Debbie Braun, 55, handed herself over to police after and was arrested by Hawks detectives last week.

Hawks spokesperson Zinzi Hani said it was alleged that the accused claimed Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) COVID-19 TERS funds for one of her employees but the employee didn’t fully benefit from the claim.

“The woman successfully claimed for five months from the Department of Labour. The three months were paid over to an employee and the remaining two months were paid and used for her personal gain. The accused defrauded the Department of Labour of over R17 000,” Hani said.

Ms Braun is a Project Manager at the Thandeka Vocational Education Trust and is also well-known after finishing as a finalist for Miss South Africa in 2013.

UIF Commissioner Teboho Maruping, sent a stern warning to those attempting to defraud the UIF, promising that those found guilty would be “arrested and punished for their heinous actions”.

This was after the recent conviction of a couple who cheated the TERS out of more than R10 million.

Moroko Moremi, 37, and his wife Treasure Moremi, 34, were recently found guilty of fraud by the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court. This was after the couple, who are directors of Denmeng Trading, applied for Covid-19 TERS for 553 workers when they only employed 22.

Another two suspects at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court were arrested and convicted after receiving R2,7 million from the UIF, but allegedly failed to use the money in line with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the UIF. The MOU requires that the Covid-19 TERS monies must be paid over to the qualifying workers applied for.

“I hope the latest conviction and arrests send a strong message to other would-be fraudsters that the long arm of the law will always catch up with you. Those who have helped themselves to funds earmarked for workers during the lockdown should always remember that the law is creeping towards them and they will not have any peace. We will not tolerate the siphoning of workers’ benefits by unscrupulous individuals. All fraudsters are on notice and we hope more suspects are arrested and sent straight to jail,” Mr Maruping said.

To date, there have been four convictions of individuals who have defrauded the UIF of Covid-19 TERS funds, and more are expected as 15 cases have been referred to the SIU for further investigation, according to the Commissioner.

Back in 2020, the Fund embarked on the “follow the money” project, where close to R900 million was recovered. The project resumed in April earlier this year, upon the appointment of audit firms.

“It is anticipated that additional recoveries will be made, and more arrests will take place as fraudulent claims are uncovered,” Mr Maruping warned.

Ms Braun made a brief appearance at the Cape Town Magistrates Court where she was released on a warning with strict conditions and the matter was postponed to June 21 for a legal representative to be appointed.

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