SFO's quake rebuild fraud investigations 'progressing well'

Photo / Simon Baker
Photo / Simon Baker

The Serious Fraud Office today reiterated the measures it is taking to address the risks of fraud and corruption during the Christchurch rebuild.

It comes after Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was questioned in Parliament yesterday over allegations involving contracts repairing the quake-shattered region.

In Parliament yesterday, NZ First leader Winston Peters asked Mr Brownlee what he was doing to prevent such activity.

Mr Brownlee confirmed he had received allegations of fraud and "these have been directed to relevant agencies for investigation", he said under parliamentary privilege.

Mr Peters said he was aware of several examples of alleged fraud where work was approved and invoiced for but was never completed.

"How long has it taken to find out that this has been going on and what's the level of the fraud?" he asked in Parliament.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which has warned the scale of fraud could run to a billion dollars, confirmed today that currently has two investigations relating to the rebuild, which are "progressing well".

SFO acting chief executive, Simon McArley confirmed that SFO had been working closely with police, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and a number of other agencies with key roles in the recovering city of Christchurch.

The SFO is in regular contact with insurers about the level of fraud being experienced by them, Mr McArley said, adding that part of his work has been involved in educating a range of stakeholders, insurers and construction companies to be alert for fraud and not be complacent about risks.

"Working together with other agencies is key to staying on the case and they also meet regularly with the Earthquake Commission and Southern Response," he said.

The SFO also stressed that it was part of a Christchurch Fraud Prevention Working Group involving a number of government agencies, as well as another working group led by the Office of the Auditor General.

"These working groups meet regularly to share information and ensure agencies are well coordinated about potential rebuild risks," Mr McArley said.

Last October, the SFO arranged for Peter Dent, an overseas recovery fraud expert from Deloitte, to speak to a range of stakeholders about international disaster recovery fraud experiences.

Learnings so far show that the majority of insurance fraud being reported does not meet the criteria for investigation by the SFO, however Mr McArley emphasised that it was important the SFO is vigilant for any serious and complex fraud that will likely occur as the rebuild develops.

"Early intervention will minimise the scale and impact of such offending," he said.

"An essential element in early intervention is the willingness of the business community and public to come forward with information.

"SFO encourages anyone with information that they believe may indicate fraudulent or illegal conduct in relation to the rebuild effort, to get in contact with either SFO or the Christchurch police."

- APNZ

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