R1,5m fraud case hangs on if ‘confession’ useable
Employee accused of making fake invoices insists she’s innocent and plans to bring colleagues to back up her story
A former employee of Röhlig-Grindrod (RG), a multibillion-rand global freight and logistics company, has been charged alongside her ex-husband for allegedly defrauding the company out of almost R1.5m.
Nirvashnee Pillay and Stephen Pillay have made numerous appearances at the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Johannesburg since they were initially charged on 82 counts of fraud in 2016.
However, their most recent proceedings have been dominated by a trial-within-a-trial that is asking the court to determine if an alleged confession by Nirvashnee, recorded by her employers, could be admissible as evidence against her.
According to the state’s indictment, the alleged fraud stemmed from 2012, when Nirvashnee was promoted to be an import manager at the company’s Johannesburg branch.
Stephen, who also ran his own company, Imbala Transport, had also been contracted on a fixed term as a shipping controller with the company between July and September 2014.
The charge sheet detailed how RG functioned as a freight forwarder and customs clearing agent, and that the company procured other service providers to assist in these jobs.
As a manager, Nirvashnee was in charge of approving payments to service providers, instructing members of her unit to process the payments and then presenting the invoices to the accounts department.
When Nirvashnee was seconded to an RG subsidiary for a six-week stint in April 2015, her replacement discovered invoices to Imbala Transport.
“During this investigation, a large number of invoices  were discovered which all fell into the same category – that is, these invoices had been raised by [Imbala] for services which [RG] had not requested it to render, nor had it in fact rendered those services to RG,” the indictment reads.
RG has alleged these invoices were all fraudulent, that Nirvashnee was responsible for approving them and that there were no queries raised because Imbala had seemingly been a legitimate service provider for years prior to the alleged fraud.
The company has accused the couple and Imbala of stealing R1,409,777.68, defrauding RG of this amount, and alleged Nirvashnee had also inflated the amounts on the invoices and instructed an import controller to process such invoices for payment.
The modus operandi, according to investigators, was identical between these invoices.
At the pair’s most recent appearance in late March, Nirvashnee took to the stand, firstly denying any fraud, and then to explain that the techniques that were alleged as fraud were common practice at the company, insisting that she and her colleagues were taught by senior managers that those were considered the norm in dealing with clients.
The trial-within-a-trial is set to continue in July, when the defence indicated it would summon other employees to corroborate the woman’s claims of institutionalised fraud.