Worker refuses to return R500 000 paid to him due to typo. Can he keep it?

(Click here to learn about the typo that destroyed a 124-year-old family business.)

A worker from the Free State is refusing to give back more than R500 000 that was paid into his account by accident.

The comma that cost half a million

According to Motsi Civils and Plant Hire Managing Director Michael Mochudi, he meant to pay R5687.61 into Phemelo Mothupi's bank account, but left the comma off by mistake.

Mochudi called Mothupi as soon as he realised what he had done, but Mothupi refused to pay back the money.

Before Mochudi’s bank, FNB, could reverse payment Mothupi transferred R400 000 to his wife’s account of which she placed R260 000 in an investment account.

Mochudi then got an urgent court application to have these two accounts frozen.

The court will decide on 5 March whether or not the Mothupi’s should have to pay back the money.

Will he have to pay back the money?

“This is not a case of finders keepers,” says Nortan Rose Fulbright litigation and dispute resolution lawyer Aslam Moosajee. “If he knew the money has been paid to him in error he exposes himself to a charge of theft.”

Moosajee says that, even if he didn’t realise an error was made, he can still be sued in a civil claim based on “unjustified enrichment”.

“Banks won’t reverse the payment without a court order, but might put a hold on the money to give the aggrieved party a chance to approach the court,” says Moosajee.

Moosajee says that the facts seem to show that Mothupi must’ve known Mochudi made the transfer in error. “He better be sure he didn’t use any of the money. He’s in danger of being found guilty of theft.”

Listen to the audio for more detail.

(Click here to learn about the typo that destroyed a 124-year-old family business.)


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