Police have arrested the man accused of embezzling $16 million from the Queensland government.
The manager of the finance division at Queensland Health’s Community Services Branch allegedly siphoned the millions from Queensland Health into private accounts over the past three years.
Police Minister Neil Roberts told ABC News Breakfast Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, also known as Joel Barlow, was arrested this morning when he tried to enter a New Farm unit.
“In the early hours of this morning, a little after 3.30am I understand, the alleged offender presented himself and tried to get into a unit and they were able to apprehend him,” Mr Roberts said.
“The individual has been taken into custody and is undergoing questioning.”
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh this morning welcomed news of the arrest, praising police for “getting their man“.
However, she said it was not the end of the matter and the government was working to close any loopholes that allowed $5 million to be taken from public purse over the past three years and $11 million in the past fortnight.
“This is just the beginning” she said. “It is unacceptable that this could happen and we are working to close any loopholes that exist“.
Police have not laid any charges against Mr Barlow yet.
Officers were yesterday investigating leads that members of the public had provided to Crime Stoppers.
Mr Barlow had just a small window of opportunity to give police the slip on Thursday afternoon, when the alleged theft first came to light.
Police raided his luxury $5.65 million riverside apartment in New Farm on Thursday evening, but there was no sign of the man who led a lavish lifestyle in Brisbane’s high-society and claimed to be a Tahitian prince.
It’s understood investigators may have missed the public servant by a matter of minutes.
Yesterday Ms Bligh said she was confident the state could recover the stolen money.
She confirmed $12 million of Mr Barlow’s assets had been seized by police and would be held during legal proceedings against him.
She admitted the checks and balances that should have prevented the alleged fraud had clearly failed, but she stopped short of saying whether heads would roll.
“I’m having all of that investigated by external forensic auditors and if there are people who have failed in their duty, then action will be taken against them” she said.
Senior government and Queensland Health officers, including the auditor-general, met with the Crime and Misconduct Commission on Saturday.
They were trying to piece together how the alleged fraud occurred and what lessons could be learned to prevent it happening again.
Ms Bligh dismissed allegations that Queensland Health had ignored an auditor-general’s report earlier this year that found public sector agencies were failing to maintain basic financial controls.
Queensland Health had implemented every single recommendation made in the report, she said.
“There has been no specific recommendation or commentary in relation to the financial processes within this part of Queensland Health,” she said.
Ms Bligh also dismissed the suggestion that the alleged fraud highlighted problems within Queensland Health, which was still reeling from the payroll bungle of 18 months ago.
Meanwhile, Mr Barlow’s New Zealand family said it was not aware of the allegations but intended to stand by him.
“He’s a naughty boy if he’s done that, but he’s still my whanau [family],” Mr Barlow’s aunt Josie Boldy told New Zealand’s Sunday News.
Source: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/alleged-queensland-health-fraudster-arrested-20111212-1oq27.html#ixzz1gGoCj8EL and AAP. Image Courtesy of The Australian.