Kiwi fraudster who ripped off Aussie taxpayers set to be deported to NZ

Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Feb 2020, 10:15AM
Hohepa Morehu-Barlow says he is a "changed man" and told his parole hearing that he has been the "perfect prison inmate". Photo / Supplied
Hohepa Morehu-Barlow says he is a "changed man" and told his parole hearing that he has been the "perfect prison inmate". Photo / Supplied

Kiwi fraudster who ripped off Aussie taxpayers set to be deported to NZ

Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Feb 2020, 10:15AM

A Kiwi fraudster who pretended to be a Polynesian prince and stole $21 million from Aussie taxpayers is set to be released from jail.

Hohepa Morehu-Barlow - also known as Joel - went from a troubled childhood in Thames to being the toast of Queensland's social set.

He told people he was Tahitian royalty but behind the scenes, he was financing his transformation with millions of dollars stolen from the state government.

It was later revealed that the 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.

In March 2013 Morehu-Barlow was jailed for 14 years for fraud.

It has been revealed that he is set to be released from prison after serving just seven years of that sentence.

According to the Daily Mail, Morehu-Barlow has been serving his time at the Wolston Correctional Centre in Brisbane's south-west.

He became eligible for parole in December 2016.

After two failed attempts at being released from jail he has reportedly now been granted parole and is due to be released.

Now 45, Morehu-Barlow is set to be released before the end of this month and will be deported back to New Zealand immediately.

Officials are in the process of organising his travel back to New Zealand and have told his family here to "prepare" for his release.

The convicted fraudster claims to be a "changed man" and referred to himself as the "perfect prison inmate" at his parole hearing, the Daily Mail reported.

Last year letters between Morehu-Barlow and his mother were published.

In those, the criminal expressed his anger at being rejected by the Parole Board.

He also spoke about why he offended - telling his mother that he wanted to 'become someone'.

"I am the perfect inmate, a role model inmate. If my crime wasn't against the government I would be home already," he wrote.

In the letters, Morehu-Barlow also acknowledged the shame he brought to his family and asked his mother for forgiveness for his offending.

"I know now the most precious gift/item/things in life is not money, wealth, flash house or cars – it's people, particularly family," the inmate wrote.

Morehu-Barlow pleaded guilty to eight fraud and drug charges when he appeared in the Brisbane District Court in 2013.

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," he said.

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.

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.

"He felt guilty for not realising the extent of his brother's depression," Shepherd said.

"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."

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," he told the court.

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

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."