Wed, Dec 14, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Official accused of stealing appears in Australian court

AFP, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

An Australian health executive accused of embezzling millions in government funds was charged with theft yesterday and made a disheveled appearance in court.

Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, 36, appeared at Brisbane Magistrates Court on one count of stealing after being released from hospital, where he spent the night.

The offense, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, relates to his alleged theft of up to A$16 million (US$16.1 million) in government funds from Queensland State’s health department, where he was a senior executive.

He is accused of using the stolen money to support a lavish lifestyle, that included several sports cars and a luxury waterfront apartment.

Police said they took Morehu-Barlow, who is also known as Joel Barlow, from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital — where he had been held for undisclosed reasons — to the Brisbane Watchhouse to be formally charged.

He was then taken to the magistrate’s court, where he appeared barefoot and unshaven in a prison tracksuit, according to local media reports.

He was arrested at his own apartment on Monday after three days on the run from police following the discovery of his alleged theft.

Lawyer Adam Magill told reporters the New Zealand-born public servant had been remanded in custody on one count of stealing. He is to appear in court on Jan. 16.

He earlier told reporters he was concerned about Morehu-Barlow’s health, describing him as “entirely devastated.”

“His health is my primary concern at the moment,” Magill said outside court.

The fraud, described by the government as among the most significant cases in Australia’s history, prompted Queensland Premier Anna Bligh to abolish the state’s troubled health department this week in favor of creating two smaller agencies.

Queensland Health underwent a major overhaul in 2005 after the death and injury of a number of patients in botched surgeries by Indian doctor Jayant Patel, who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence.

More recently, the department suffered an embarrassing payroll bungle in which staff were overpaid about A$74 million in wages, while others were underpaid or not paid at all. The government is still recovering the money.

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