The Serious Fraud Office has filed charges against a former Oranga Tamariki (OT) property manager for allegedly awarding more than $2 million of work to her husband’s construction company without OT’s knowledge.
Neha Sharma and her husband Amandeep Sharma face charges of obtaining by deception and money laundering. Mrs Sharma also faces charges of using a forged document. Mr Sharma appeared in Christchurch District Court today. Mrs Sharma is currently in India.
The SFO alleges Mrs Sharma gave false references to secure her job at OT, where she was responsible for managing aspects of properties in the Canterbury region, including maintenance, upkeep and modifications.
Once in the role, the SFO alleges Mrs Sharma set up her husband’s company Divine Connection as a contractor, without declaring a conflict of interest.
Mrs Sharma is then alleged to have worked with her husband to ensure work was assigned to his company over other approved suppliers. They allegedly worked together to submit and approve invoices throughout 2021 and 2022, at no stage declaring a conflict of interest to OT.
In total OT paid Divine Connection just over $2 million.
Money laundering charges faced by the couple relate to almost $800,000 which was transferred to overseas bank accounts in India. The Police Asset Recovery Unit has been working in close co-operation with colleagues in India and as a result has located and restrained the funds. Proceedings are underway to ultimately return the funds to New Zealand.
The High Court has issued a restraining order over the couple’s properties in New Zealand upon application by the Commissioner of Police, pursuant to the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009.
“We would like to acknowledge the Police and Indian authorities for their swift action and assistance in securing the defendants’ assets, as well as the co-operation of Oranga Tamariki in the investigation,” says SFO Director Karen Chang.
The defendants’ next appearance is scheduled for 26 July 2023. A warrant has been issued for Mrs Sharma’s arrest but will lie in court until the next appearance.