Kiwi fraudster: Watchdog admits it was too slow

Hohepa Morehu-Barlow. Photo / COURIER MAIL
Hohepa Morehu-Barlow. Photo / COURIER MAIL

Queensland's corruption watchdog has admitted it failed to act fast enough on an anonymous complaint about the Kiwi fake prince who ripped off Queensland Health

New Zealander Joel Barlow, 38, defrauded the Queensland government of A$16.6 million ($20 million) was sentenced to 14 years in jail in March after pleading guilty to eight fraud and drug charges.

He was arrested after police discovered his lavish lifestyle had been funded by almost A$17 million stolen from Queensland Health, not his inheritance as a Tahitian royal as he claimed.

A detailed report on the scandal by the Crime and Misconduct Commission revealed a complaint about was lodged with the watchdog in August 2010.

"On 5 August, the CMC received an anonymous email complaint alleging that Barlow (under the name Joseph Hikairo Barlow) was defrauding QHealth and was due to leave Australia on 24 August 2010 to start a new life of luxury in Paris,'' the report states.

It said the CMC did not immediately act on the complaint because it did not identify the extent of the fraud and was lodged anonymously.

"The CMC officer did not respond in a timely way to the information in the email stating Barlow's proposed date of departure from Australia,'' the report said.

"However, that part of the anonymous complaint was not accurate, as Barlow did not in fact leave the country for Paris on that date.

"As a result, the complaint was not sent to QHealth until the day that Barlow was allegedly intending to leave the country.''

The report also found that eight Queensland Health officers inadvertently helped Barlow pull off his fraud failing to follow procedures.

CMC Assistant Commissioner Kathleen Florian said by failing to comply with existing policy and procedures, other Queensland Health staff allowed Barlow's offending to continue undetected for longer.

The CMC's report found there was enough evidence to substantiate 24 misconduct claims against nine Queensland Health officers, including Barlow.

Some of those officers are no longer employed in the public service.

Ms Florian said despite the misconduct, no one else knowingly helped Barlow commit his 65 fraudulent transactions over the period.

"Barlow was a brazen and determined fraudster,'' Ms Florian said in a statement.

"The CMC's misconduct investigation found he acted alone.''

Ms Florian said the incident showed it wasn't enough for appropriate policies and procedures to be in place.

"It is also crucial that staff understand and adhere to them and that managers identify and deal with non-compliance,'' she said.

"It is also important that public sector employees at all levels are aware of the risk of fraud and respond to inappropriate behaviour and work practices before they escalate.''

Ms Florian said public sector agencies needed to be vigilant in five key areas, including financial management and managerial standards and accountability.

Agencies also had to be careful about accepting gifts and benefits, managing risks in a context of organisational change and fraud awareness and prevention.

The report said Barlow's final payment to the company he created was $A11 million.

He told CMC investigators that he was "tired of living a double life" and being "His Royal Highness''.

"I'm glad my staff picked it up,'' he said Asked how he kept track of how much money he was taking, Barlow told CMC investigators "I didn't, if I ran out of money I'd submit another invoice''.

Barlow, who touted himself as Tahitian royalty and lived a lavish lifestyle was jailed earlier this year for 14 years.

- AAP

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