A council accountant being investigated for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars of ratepayer money before skipping the country says it was "just something that happened".
John Wynne is alleged to have taken the money - believed to be a five-figure sum - while working as revenue accountant at Masterton District Council.
He was in the role for six years before leaving for Australia's Alice Springs last August.
The council discovered the missing funds during a routine audit before he left. The sum was spread over several transactions.
He hurriedly paid back the money from Australia after being approached by the council as part of its investigation.
But the council, which has contacted police over the matter, is still looking into "financial discrepancies".
No charges have been laid.
Speaking from Alice Springs, Mr Wynne told The Dominion Post he was "devastated" by the events.
"I wasn't well at the time, but it's just something that happened."
He "appreciated" that charges were likely, and that he feared the matter was going to catch up with him.
When asked if a conviction resulting from the investigation might affect his ability to return to New Zealand he said: "I would say so".
Mr Wynne is now working as the manager of the visitor centre for the Alice Springs School of the Air, a primary-aged correspondence school that broadcasts lessons to remote Outback students.
He is also on the executive committee of Tourism Central Australia.
He said his employer at the School of the Air was aware of the allegations, but he would only inform Tourism Central Australia when charges were laid.
Masterton District Council chief executive Wes ten Hove said the investigation, which started while Mr Wynne was an employee, was almost finished.
He confirmed Mr Wynne had paid back the money.
"What I can say is all public money is secure - there's nothing outstanding at this stage, and I'm pretty happy about that."
Staff were still conducting "forensic accounting work" to get to the bottom of it, and said they were yet to determine a final figure.
"Our internal audits raised some questions, which is good; that's why we run them. And we need to work through the outcomes of those investigations."
He said discussions had been held with police, who would decide on whether to lay charges once the investigation was complete.
The police officer handling the case could not be reached for comment.
Mr Wynne started working at the council in February 2006, and left on August 3 last year.
The same month he moved to Alice Springs, in Australia's Northern Territory, with wife Adrienne, who now works at a local primary school.
In a media interview in September Mr Wynne said he was born in Taihape, and had worked in the promotions industry "for a long time".
"In the past few years I have worked for a corporation that has assets around the world.
"I spent some time in London promoting those and I also spent some time in Fiji, among other places.
"I also worked in local government for years."
Masterton District Councillor David Holmes said councillors were informed of a "potential problem", but had not been briefed on the investigation.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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