Kiwi jailed over $16m Queensland fraud

By Kieran Campbell

Joel Morehu-Barlow is accused of fleecing more than $19 million from Queensland Health.Photo / Supplied
Joel Morehu-Barlow is accused of fleecing more than $19 million from Queensland Health.Photo / Supplied

Hohepa Morehu-Barlow grinned and waved goodbye to his family as he was marched away to start a 14-year term in a Queensland prison yesterday for defrauding the state government of A$16.6 million ($20 million).

Cleanly shaven and dressed in a sharp black suit, the flamboyant New Zealander, also known as Joel, showed little resemblance to the desperate man who tried to kill himself when his lies about being a Tahitian prince were uncovered.

The 38-year-old tried to overdose on illegal drugs when police discovered that 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.

The Thames-born finance manager used the money to buy a luxury waterfront apartment, expensive sports cars, lavish gifts for family and friends and more than A$600,000 worth of Louis Vuitton goods.

He pleaded guilty to eight fraud and drug charges when he appeared in the Brisbane District Court.

His offending, the largest ever fraud against the state government, funded an extravagant lifestyle that made Morehu-Barlow one of Brisbane's fashionable high flyers.

He made 62 fraudulent transactions with a total value of A$16,690,067.57 to his private bank account between 2008 and his arrest in December 2011.

At the time of his arrest, police said they had frozen A$12 million worth of assets.

Crown prosecutor Todd Fuller told the court Morehu-Barlow's spending behaviour was "extreme".

"He used [the stolen money] to fund an opulent lifestyle, provide lavish gifts and support a persona he had created for himself as a wealthy Tahitian prince required to work to obtain his inheritance," Mr Fuller said.

Defence barrister David Shepherd said Morehu-Barlow was the oldest of six children. The suicide of one of his brothers in 2007 had a "profound effect" on him, Mr Shepherd said.

"He felt guilty for not realising the extent of his brother's depression. That sense of failure played on his own mind for some months and as a consequence his drug use increased. He then resorted to this offending."

Morehu-Barlow started work at Queensland Health in 2005. He was soon promoted to a senior financial manager's role and his rank enabled him to learn how to manipulate the system so he could make payments that wouldn't be detected.

He set up a false business and forged documents, including letters under the state health minister's hand, to legitimise the transfer of state funds to his personal account.

Morehu-Barlow forged more documents for the largest of his fraudulent payments, purportedly for a dental building at a Queensland university.

Mr Shepherd said a mid-level manager suspicious of the large amount searched for information about the business and found Morehu-Barlow was the director.

"He must have known that he would get caught and in fact he did feel that that could happen any time," Mr Shepherd said.

"That behaviour can be seen as compulsive and self-destructive rather than the desire to have money."

But Judge Kerry O'Brien said Morehu-Barlow's conduct was "the most serious breach" of the trust placed in him in his role at Queensland Health.

"This was an audacious scheme, which involved the manipulation of the grants scheme for ministerial support for charities and other community groups, to obtain an opulent and extravagant lifestyle [and] a way for you to ingratiate yourself to other people," Judge O'Brien said.

"Your dishonesty only ceased with police involvement."

Morehu-Barlow was ordered to serve until December 2016 before being eligible for parole.

- APNZ

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