3 Dec 2008

DHB fraud accused 'intimidated' by SFO

6:07 pm on 3 December 2008

The former manager accused of defrauding the Otago District Health Board has admitted contradicting himself, but blamed intimidation by the Serious Fraud Office.

The board's former IT manager Mike Swann and his friend Queenstown surveyor Kerry Harford deny filing $17 million of fraudulent invoices to the board between 2000 and 2006.

The men admit receiving the money, but deny that it was fraud.

Mr Swan was giving evidence at the High Court in Dunedin on Wednesday.

Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Robin Bates, Mr Swan admitted that he had made statements in court that contradicted things he said by the Serious Fraud Office interview last year.

Mr Swan said he stood by the statements made in court, because he had been under pressure during the SFO interviews.

He said he had felt intimidated and had been filmed and interrogated in a small room with very little warning.

Mr Swan said he found the court environment less intimidating.

Earlier, the court was told Mr Swan received the equivalent of $43,000 a week from his alleged fraud.

Mr Swann received 90% of the money and Mr Harford 10%, but they say it was for a legitimate insurance type arrangement.

Crown prosecutor Robin Bates suggested to Mr Swann that the $43,000 a week might have been better spent on more doctors.

Mr Swann said he considered all the IT expenditure over the time period was appropriate and agreed with Mr Bates that his base salary at the DHB was about $140,000 a year.

Mr Swann told court on Tuesday that he arranged for Mr Harford to provide a risk mitigation service for the district health board's computer system, as he was not satisfied with the support the hospital received from IBM or CSI.

Mr Swann said he drafted and signed contracts between the DHB and Mr Harford's company, Sonnford Solutions Limited. He said it was a totally above-board commercial operation, and Mr Harford was in no way party to any deceit.

Mr Swann told the court the board got very good value out of the arrangement with Mr Harford's company, which was evidenced by six relatively trouble-free years for the DHB computer system during the course of the arrangements.

Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Robin Bates, Mr Swann said none of the contracts concerned mentioned anything about risk mitigation or insurance. He said they all came under a risk mitigation umbrella agreement, which had been in his office at the DHB.

Mr Bates said it was unfortunate the umbrella agreement seemed to have gone missing.

SFO tells how proceeds spent

On Monday, a member of the Serious Fraud Office gave evidence, telling the court how the proceeds were spent.

The SFO's supervising senior for investigations, David Osborn, said Mr Swan retained just over $15 million and Mr Harford $1.8 million.

Mr Osborn said Mr Swann spent almost $8 million on boats and vehicles, about $3.6 million on property and more than $2 million on other personal spending and cash withdrawals.

Mr Osborn said Mr Harford spent more than $300,000 on boats and vehicles, put about $550,000 into personal accounts and spent a further $350,000 on household expenses and credit cards.

He said Mr Harford used some of the money to pay accountants and the Inland Revenue Department, but Mr Swann did not.

The court was told there was no evidence of any work being done at the Otago DHB to justify $17 million worth of payments.