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31 Jan 2023

Suing a Degree-Forging Employee for R2.2m

CV fraud is rampant and upfront checking of all claimed qualifications and references is of course always your first and best line of defence.

If, however you do get caught out, take some heart from a recent High Court decision that an employee, who had forged a degree certificate and falsified his university academic record, had to repay to his employer every cent he had earned as a result of his fraud.

Not only did the Court order the deceitful employee to repay eight years’ worth of salaries amounting to over R2.2m, but it also allowed the employer to access his pension fund (such funds are normally protected from all creditor claims) for the purposes of making recovery.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott, quoted in the judgment below)

It’s a sad fact of life in today’s business world that as an employer you must remain constantly on guard against the dangers of “CV fraud”.

First prize of course must always be prevention – verify all claimed qualifications and work experience, accept nothing on trust. But if you do get caught out, our courts will help you if they can, as witnessed by a recent High Court case.

The “graduate” who forged a B.Sc degree

  • An employee was found to have been employed, and to have been accepted into his employer’s graduate development programme, on the basis of forged qualifications in the form of a forged B.Sc degree (in Chemical Engineering) and a falsified academic record.
  • His fraud was only discovered after some 8 years, and when he resigned (after disciplinary proceedings against him began) his employer reclaimed the +R2.2m it had paid him over the years.
  • The employee objected, claiming that he had provided value to his employer in his work. The Court was unimpressed, no doubt at least in part because of the employer’s evidence that, as it was a bulk supplier of water to millions of people, having an unqualified person working for it (performing calculations on the type and quantity of chemicals to be added to the water) “could potentially have incredibly serious consequences for the general populace.”

“Fraud unravels everything” – goodbye R2.2m and a pension fund

Held the Court (quoting from a well-known English case on fraud): “No court in this land will allow a person to keep an advantage which he has obtained by fraud. No judgment of a court, no order of a Minister, can be allowed to stand if it has been obtained by fraud. Fraud unravels everything.” (Emphasis added)

The employee, said the Court, “set out to deceive and wove his web accordingly. He achieved his goal. He has now become entangled in a web that he alone devised and cannot now be heard to complain of the consequences that must follow.”

Not only must he now repay every cent of the R2,203,565.04 he earned through his fraud, plus interest, but his pension benefits (which are normally secure from creditor claims) can be used for the purpose. To rub a final dose of salt into his wounds, he must also pay legal costs on the punitive attorney and client scale – no doubt the Court’s findings as to his untruthfulness as a witness contributing to that result.

31 Jan 2023

Neighbours Behaving Badly: Illegal Buildings and Demolition Orders

Your neighbour starts building an apartment block next door – without approved building plans. What can you do about it?

We address that question with reference to a recent High Court case in which two neighbours asked the Court to order a property owner to demolish a multi-story apartment block he had been building in contravention of municipal “stop building” orders.

The outcome, and the Court’s reasons for granting the demolition order, hold valuable lessons both for owners wanting to build on their properties, and for their affected neighbours.

“The approval of building plans is not a mere formality in town planning and compliance with building standards promote public safety … The courts should not permit landowners to erect illegal structures on their land and then present the authorities with a fait accompli created by their illegal actions” (Extracts from judgment below)

What do you do if your neighbour starts building next door without municipal plans? A recent High Court decision confirms your right to apply for demolition.

The pensioner who built an apartment block illegally

  • A property owner decided to build a multi-story block of eight apartments on his land. According to media reports he is a pensioner who spent his R900,000 pension payout on the project and planned to live off the resultant rentals of some R40,000 p.m.
  • The building, which he had told his neighbours was just going to be a garden cottage, was illegal on four counts –
  1. No building plans were approved by the local Council,
  2. The structure encroached on building line restrictions imposed in the Town Planning Scheme,
  3. The structure did not comply with the zoning of the property,
  4. A restrictive condition in the title deed was contravened in that the title deed permitted only one dwelling on the property and the owner was erecting a second.
  • The owner failed to comply with two “stop building” orders from the Council. Then he undertook to cease the works but instead accelerated them.
  • Two of his neighbours urgently applied to the High Court to interdict further building, and the Court ordered the owner to demolish the building.
  • The owner appealed this order to a “full bench” of the High Court asking for the demolition order to be postponed whilst his application to the Council for rezoning and removal of the restrictive conditions was finalised.
  • Although the Council had approved the rezoning of the property it had specifically noted that it did not condone the partly constructed building, which was illegal because no building plans had been approved and the building encroached on the building lines.
  • The neighbours, held the Court, had standing to apply for a demolition order, in that although their land had not been encroached upon, their rights had.
  • In deciding to exercise its discretion in favour of demolition, the Court noted that the neighbours had taken steps to protect their rights immediately it became apparent that the owner was not constructing a garden cottage but an apartment block. They reported the illegal structure to the Council, and it weighed heavily with the Court that the owner carried on building even when he knew it was an illegal structure.
  • The owner must demolish the building.

Bottom line – if your neighbour starts building illegally, take immediate action!

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