False quake claims admitted

GEORGINA STYLIANOU AND DAVID CLARKSON
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014

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Increasingly complex fraud cases are emerging and more bogus claims will land in court, the Earthquake Commission (EQC) says.

Poulomi Chaterjee, 35, yesterday admitted four charges in the Christchurch District Court of dishonesty using documents to make earthquake damage claims totalling $48,620.

Police prosecutor Chris Hunt said Chaterjee had put in the series of claims from December 2010 to March 2012. The claims covered household items such as a keyboard, broken china, and damaged musical instruments.

When EQC asked for photographs of the items, it found that photographs were sent which had been obtained from the internet. Police analysis of the computers, receipts, and photographs indicated there was no proof the majority of the listed items existed.

EQC Canterbury home repair programme manager Reid Stiven said 130 claims involving 23 people had been referred to the police since the September 2010 earthquake.

"We have a number more in the pipeline," he said.

"We are also investigating other types of fraud, some of which are quite complex, and we expect to refer more files to the police for prosecution in the near future."

Hundreds of cases had been investigated when there was "something that did not add up", Stiven said.

Not all involved deliberate dishonesty and often an honest mistake had been made, he said.

Investigations could result in claims being adjusted or declined but, in some cases, it could affect a customer's ability to get insurance in the future.

He said EQC's experience in Canterbury had been that people had a "low tolerance for fraud" and many had phoned the confidential investigation line.

Chaterjee's claims were paid and EQC was now seeking $37,587 in reparation.

Defence counsel Craig Ruane said the claims were made on behalf of a relative and three of the payment cheques were paid into the relative's account. The fourth cheque went into Chaterjee's account.

Judge Jane Farish remanded Chaterjee at large without the need for bail, for sentencing on March 11. She ordered the reparation report and an assessment of Chaterjee's suitability for home or community detention.

In February last year, property developer Krishna Rani Saha endangered her earthquake damage claims of $1.5 million because she made fraudulent claims totalling about $30,000.

Saha had admitted 18 charges relating to false insurance claims for quake damage. They include charges of forgery, obtaining by deception, altering a document, dishonestly using a document and making a false declaration.

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She was sentenced to six months' home detention.

- The Press

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