SFO probes two rebuild fraud cases

Two Christchurch rebuild fraud cases are being investigated, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has confirmed.

No details were given, but SFO acting chief executive Simon McArley said yesterday the investigations were "progressing well".

NZ First leader Winston Peters this week questioned in Parliament whether Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was aware of allegations of fraud, before detailing a series of general allegations about work being approved and invoiced for, but never taking place.

The Press reported in December two alleged cases of corrupt practices by contractors and officials involved in the Christchurch rebuild were under investigation.

McArley said "various measures" were being taken to address the risks of fraud and corruption since the earthquakes.

The SFO had been working closely with police, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and other agencies with key roles in Christchurch, he said.

Fletcher EQR, the Earthquake Commission's (EQC) quake-repair project manager, yesterday stood by its performance after Peters' allegation.

General manager David Peterson said the company had in place "robust audit processes" and any implication of invoicing irregularities was "entirely false".

A "small number" of claims involving false invoicing had been identified in the more than two years since the repair programme began.

The invoices were detected during regular audits and reported to EQC.

EQC customer services general manager Bruce Emson said the commission had a "zero tolerance" policy for fraud.

The investigations unit had since February 2011 looked into 880 cases where there were irregularities.

"To date, we have referred 21 files to the police, and we now have five convictions with two hearings pending," Emson said.

Most customers, contractors and staff involved in the residential rebuild were "genuine and honest".

"Unfortunately, a few do deliberately attempt to cheat the system. "Our job is to ensure that our customers get their fair entitlement, nothing more and nothing less."

The Press reports included an allegation a Fletcher EQR quantity surveyor left the country immediately after he was questioned about alleged collusion with a contractor overpricing and invoicing for work that it was alleged was not done.

In the other incident, the Serious Fraud Office was involved in an investigation at Lumley Insurance into alleged collusion between a loss adjustor and contractors. It was understood a contractor and a claims handler allegedly colluded to skim off an illegal margin.

The Press