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Australian authorities to shut down health department after official steals $11 million from government coffers in one week

Friday, December 16, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: Australia, health department, fraud

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(NaturalNews) For years, Joel Barlow, a senior official at Queensland Health in Australia, had been embezzling millions of taxpayer dollars from the region's government-run health system in order to enrich his own lavish lifestyle. But when Barlow, whose full name is Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, successfully pillaged $11 million in a single week and got caught doing it, government officials decided it was time to pull the plug on the entire health system.

BBC News reports that Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland, decided that Barlow's alleged crimes were so serious that the entire region's health system needed to be abolished. She announced that the fraud was the "final chapter in the life of the ailing agency," and that it was no longer feasible to make do with the "sick administrative performance of [the] massive organization."

Barlow had allegedly embezzled roughly $5 million over the course of three years from funds intended for charities and private service providers, diverting this money into bank accounts of businesses that he personally owned. Most recently, Barlow rerouted $11 million in a single week into his own company's account, which was the straw that broke the camel's back in the eyes of senior bureaucrats that finally took notice of the suspicious activity.

According to Australia's Brisbane Times, Barlow created a fake organization known as "Healthy Initiatives and Choices" that he had gotten listed in the state's registry of "Health Funded Organizations and Individuals." Once established, Barlow began funneling increasingly higher amounts of public funds into this phony organization, which allegedly served as his own personal bank account.

It was only because the $11 million sum exceeded the allowable limit for transfers that need approval from higher-ups that government officials even became aware of the fraud at all. And Bligh's action to cut the health program entirely and split it up into separate administrative and medical arms by July 1, 2012, in response is basically an open admission that there was little to no oversight of how funds were being used.

According to Australian police, Barlow's case represents one of the most significant cases of fraud in the nation's history. And it serves as a powerful example to other countries like the US that are working towards implementing similar government-run health care systems of their own.

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