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POLICE FAILURE TO CHECK ON QLD HEALTH WORKER

As police prepare to charge the alleged Queensland Health fraudster, the state’s top cop has revealed officers failed to follow up a lead last year.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said allegations made about then Queensland Health employee Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, also known as Joel Barlow, were last year sent to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which referred them back to Queensland Health.

Mr Atkinson said police were aware of the allegations and could have made enquiries of New Zealand authorities, but did not.

Police outside Hohepa Morehu-Barlow's apartment building, at rear.
Police outside Hohepa Morehu-Barlow’s apartment building, at rear. Photo: Bridie Jabour

“What we’re doing now is trying to ascertain why those enquiries were not made,” he said.

Mr Barlow has been accused of embezzling $16 million from Queensland Health.

Mr Atkinson said his understanding was that last year’s complaint was made by someone outside of Queensland Health.

“The information related to the alleged background of Mr Barlow in New Zealand and the alleged activities of Mr Barlow in the health department,” he said.

“It would have been a fairly straightforward process for us to have checked his background in New Zealand.”

Mr Atkinson also confirmed today Mr Barlow was apprehended by a security guard at New Farm this morning before police were contacted, saying officers were patrolling the area but did not have it under constant surveillance.

“Initially he was found by a security guard,” he said.

“We had been doing patrols of the area.”

Mr Atkinson declined to say what Mr Barlow’s “medical issues” were but said he understood he was now conscious.

He said it was not yet clear where Mr Barlow had been staying in the last few days as he was being searched for.

“We don’t know for sure, we think … he was being looked after by friends and we think he was in Brisbane in that regard,” Mr Atkinson said.

Police were expected to charge Mr Barlow with fraud as early as this afternoon.

However, police said they were waiting for him to be released from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, where he is under police guard, before charging him.

In a statement issued this evening, police said the man wanted for questioning would remain in police custody at the hospital overnight and no charges had been laid at this stage.

They did not provide any information about his condition.

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.

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.

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.

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