Documents reveal just how Joanne Harrison ripped off Ministry of Transport for $725k

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Hundreds of Official Information Act documents released to 1 NEWS show the extent that convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison manipulated and ripped off the Ministry of Transport.

Joanne Harrison has been jailed for nearly four years for stealing more than $700k of taxpayers' money.

Source: 1 NEWS

Joanne Harrison is currently serving three years behind bars, convicted of defrauding the Ministry of $725,000.

But it's now emerged how deep her deception went.

The documents show Harrison began using her position to employ companies and people as far back as 2013. The ministry now believes those companies and people did not exist.

One company was called Sharp Design and, at the time of Harrison's suspension from her role in 2016, the Ministry's then-chief executive Martin Matthews said there was no evidence that Sharp Design even existed.

Harrison is also known as Joanne Sharp.

Emails also show suspicion fell on the employment of a person Harrison contracted as a writer.

An email from Mr Matthews to the employee at the time Harrison was suspended states: "You never report to the office and there is no evidence of you doing any work for us.

"Please contact me urgently… with a full explanation as to what work you have done, what you are currently doing, and what you have done with the money you have been paid."

The Ministry paid $300,000 over three years to the employee and Sharp Design.

A phone call detailed in the documents describes how the Australian Federal Police made contact with the Ministry looking for Harrison in 2014. The matter was not taken further.

Emails also show the breakdown in the relationship between the Ministry and Harrison while she was investigated and suspended on full pay.

She engaged a contractor to go into the Ministry's office over Anzac weekend in 2016, to attempt to take files from her office and place a document in the finance office despite being banned from the offices while under investigation.

Not long after that attempt, Harrison told Mr Matthews that she wouldn't be returning to New Zealand, and the next day her email address with the Ministry of Transport was cancelled and the Ministry suspended her pay.

Mr Matthews, who is now the Auditor-General, is currently out of the country and referred our requests for an interview back to the Ministry.

Current chief executive of the Ministry of Transport Peter Mersi says the documents show "the extent to which Joanne manipulated and deceived people in the way in which she went about her business. She was a very deceitful woman".

Mr Mersi says the ministry has learned lessons from Harrison's offending.

"We did undertake a number of independent reviews both into her actions and into our systems and processes to ensure that going forward we're in a position where we're confident about the way in which our money is spent and the way in which public money is spent."
 

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