'We all wished it hadn't happened,' says former boss of fraudster Joanne Harrison
Former transport ministry boss Martin Matthews has received the thumbs-up from MPs to be the next controller and auditor-general.
Three days after Matthews' replacement Peter Mersi officially took over in July, news broke that high-ranking ministry staffer Joanne Harrison had fleeced taxpayers of about $723,000 and left the country.
This week, a former senior Ministry of Transport manager voiced surprise that MPs recommended Matthews for the new role, considering Harrison's court case was still not finished.
But Speaker of the House David Carter said Matthews handled the Harrison case commendably, and Matthews also responded to questions.
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* Ministry of Transport staffer stood down, accused of stealing $750,000
"I uncovered the fraud, investigated it thoroughly and did all of the things necessary to help ensure the Crown could take a successful prosecution," Matthews said.
He acknowledged a person he appointed ended up committing the fraud but added: "The point I would make is that anybody who's dealt with people who commit these crimes is they are typically quite sophisticated.
"We all wished it hadn't happened, but I'm very confident that my handling of the issue was as the Speaker described ..."
Matthews said he had long been expected to step down as Ministry of Transport chief executive and secretary of transport mid-year. The Harrison investigation did not affect that timing.
He appreciated public interest in the issue and said he took "decisive and thorough" steps once learning of the discrepancies.
"My personal integrity and reputation is really important."
He had a "longstanding interest in the role of auditor-general" and was looking forward to the job.
The office provides independent reporting on how taxes and rates were spent.
Carter said the MPs who nominated Matthews looked into the Harrison case carefully, and said Matthews' behaviour was described as "exemplary".
"The committee considered a number of candidates and decided that Mr Matthews had all the qualities, abilities, and experience required to be the next controller and auditor-general."
If confirmed by Parliament and the governor-general, Matthews' seven-year term would start on February 1.
NO BAIL AFTER BAILING
Harrison disappeared before the Serious Fraud Office announced suspicious payments of more than $720,000 were made from the ministry to entities associated with her.
Harrison, also known as Joanne Sharp, was later arrested after returning from Canada.
In August, she faced court and was denied bail. She pleaded guilty in Auckland this month to three fraud-related charges. A civil case is under way to recover missing money.