Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Benefit cheat taunts minister

Peter Freedom posted this image of himself in the Netherlands earlier this month. Photo / Supplied
Peter Freedom posted this image of himself in the Netherlands earlier this month. Photo / Supplied

A welfare fraudster who travelled the world for two years courtesy of the taxpayer has taunted Social Development Minister Paula Bennett in an online video.

Peter Freedom has timed the YouTube video to cause maximum embarrassment for Ms Bennett one week before the election - and he says he will upload four more.

Freedom mocks the minister as "incompetent, arrogant and self-absorbed" in the clip. He also attacks Work and Income New Zealand.

The clip shows film and photos from his travels, including at the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids of Giza.

Freedom left for Australia in April 2009, but his benefit payments were not stopped until last January, allowing him to visit Europe, the Balkans, Britain, Africa and Asia.

He received nearly $28,000 in benefit payments over two years.

When news of the fraud broke in June, an arrest warrant was issued for Freedom - also known as Petrus van Druten - after he failed to appear in court.

In the 13-minute video, Freedom claims he will return to New Zealand only if Ms Bennett resigns within seven days.

He contacted the Weekend Herald by email, drawing attention to the video. He said he was in the Netherlands, and would return to New Zealand eventually.

He was "indifferent" to prosecution.

The YouTube clip begins with a shot of Freedom in front of Palace Soestdijk in the Netherlands.

"I'd like to tell you my point of view," he says. "Here's my story."

He says that when he first claimed the $90-a-week benefit while living in Hawera, it was not enough to live on.

It was a myth that the unemployed were "on some sort of holiday".

He says he was hired for a full-time job not far from town but needed $20 from Work and Income for a week's worth of transport. "They refused it. Instead they told me to walk for about two hours there along the highway, and two hours back.

"So I started walking, all right," Freedom says, as the video cuts to a photo of him in front of the Taj Mahal.

In the video, Freedom admits he fraudulently filled out a tenancy agreement to claim a greater benefit of $290 a week, but claims it was only in exasperation with Work and Income.

Ms Bennett was elected only because other candidates were equally useless, he says, and a radical rethink of welfare was needed.

Work and Income chief executive Janet Grossman said Freedom was a "liar and a fraudster" and his message would carry little weight with New Zealanders.

When Freedom left for Australia, he had a legal obligation to inform Work and Income, but did not do so.

"The moment he steps back in the country he'll be arrested and put before the courts where he can front up and explain himself to taxpayers," Ms Grossman said.

Ms Bennett said it was the National Government's Future Focus reforms - which required all who had been on the dole for a year to reapply - which cut Freedom's payments.

"I suggest he gets a job and works for a living and I would welcome him back to New Zealand so he can pay off his debt."

- NZ Herald

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