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Report reveals DHB boss used taxpayer money for Las Vegas flight

Author
Natalie Akoorie, NZ Herald ,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Monday, 11 February 2019, 3:12p.m.
Waikato District Health Board's internal investigation into former chief Dr Nigel Murray's spending has never been released to the public before. (Photo / Christine Cornege)
Waikato District Health Board's internal investigation into former chief Dr Nigel Murray's spending has never been released to the public before. (Photo / Christine Cornege)

A damning internal investigation into the irregular expenses of a health board boss show personal spending and attempts to conceal the breaches.

But a lawyer for Dr Nigel Murray said the report was only ever a draft and was subject to change.

The Waikato District Health Board's investigation into its then chief executive's spending has never been released to the public until now.

The 46-page report by barrister Maria Dew, dated September 22, 2017, was released to the Herald, under the Official Information Act, almost 16 months after the newspaper requested it.

It was heavily redacted but excerpts showed:

  • Murray already had his relocation costs from Canada extended from $15,000 to $25,000 when he spent more than double the agreed amount;
  • He personally booked a $1617 international flight for a woman from San Francisco to Auckland using taxpayer money;
  • He spent two nights in Las Vegas during a trip to the United States on virtual health business. On the same trip, which he later largely refunded, Murray went to Canada for seven nights;
  • He booked a rental car in Moncton, Canada for two months despite only being in the city for six days.

According to the draft report, Murray booked the flight from San Francisco to Auckland for the woman, whose name was redacted, by telephone to the DHB's agent Tandem Travel on May 15, 2017.

This circumvented the usual process which was for the chief executive's assistant to book travel.

It also breached his employment contract because all travel was supposed to be agreed and authorised by then board chairman Bob Simcock, and no personal travel for himself or family and friends was allowed.

Dr Nigel Murray (centre) and former Waikato District Health Board chairman Bob Simcock (right). Photo / Christine Cornege

Dr Nigel Murray (centre) and former Waikato District Health Board chairman Bob Simcock (right). Photo / Christine Cornege

Murray resigned in October that year and a State Services Commission inquiry released last March showed he spent $218,000 on travel and accommodation in the three years he held the $560,000 job, half of which was either unauthorised or unjustified.

The case was referred to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Other parts of the draft report state Murray went to Las Vegas for two nights in March 2015 when he was expected at a conference in Philadelphia.

The travel request was not completed or signed off by Simcock until a year later, even though organisers of the trip complained to Simcock on their return that Murray, an invited participant, was a no-show.

Simcock told the Herald later he was aware of the US trip and thought Murray's "programme changed" to take in talks with IT firm HealthTap.

During the 11-day trip which cost $8929, exposed by the Weekend Herald in August 2017, Murray also went to Canada for a week though no business purpose has ever been given.

At the time he told the newspaper he was in the US to meet with HealthTap and the timeframe didn't allow him to join the study group.

The Herald reported after Murray resigned that the investigation raised questions over expenses he claimed with two Canadian women, neither of whom was his wife.

The draft report said Murray arranged for Canadian nurse Shannyn Sainiuk to come to New Zealand to conduct a peer review of the DHB's quality management strategy in October 2014.

"The Waikato DHB has not been able to locate any document created by Dr Murray confirming the terms of her engagement," Dew wrote.

In April last year the Herald revealed Sainiuk's visit, and associated cost of $6540, which included her flights and 16 days accommodation at Quest Hamilton.

Dew's report also states that on October 18, 2016 Murray flew to New York and three days later to Moncton, a small city in the province of New Brunswick, Canada.

The report says a rental car was hired in Moncton two days before Murray arrived, on October 20, for a month, despite Murray returning to Auckland on October 26.

On November 4 Murray extended the rental car hire from November 20 to December 23.

"This is recorded in an email from Tandem Travel to Dr Murray on his private email," Dew wrote. "However, the rental car voucher shows it as chargeable to the DHB."

An expense claim for "New York meals and taxi" was dated November 25, 2016, a month after his return.

In July 2017, after concerns about Murray's spending became known, he repaid 39 days of the car hire at $4259.

"However this amount remained outstanding and undisclosed to the DHB as personal expenditure between October 2016 and May 2017," Dew wrote.

Though Murray had been asked to pay back part of his relocation costs by Simcock in February 2017, he did not repay $11,904 until June 13, the day after then Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman was notified of the situation.

He repaid a further $17,500 on August 21 and, at later dates, $20,000 the DHB said was outstanding.

Murray's lawyer, Calum Cartwright of Cullen Law, said the report drafted by Dew was never concluded.

"The excerpts you have received are only her draft findings and were subject to change following any comment from Dr Murray.

"Dr Murray had many concerns about the investigation and its draft findings, which were not addressed in the draft report because the investigation was stopped."

It was stopped when the board agreed to Murray's resignation.

Cartwright said he could not comment further while other investigations remained ongoing.

 

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