Police want to crack Joanne Harrison's KiwiSaver to repay fraud money

Joanne Harrison's fraud went undetected for years. (File photo)

Joanne Harrison's fraud went undetected for years. (File photo)

Ministry of Transport fraudster Joanne Harrison faces court action to crack open her KiwiSaver account to help repay some of the $725,000 she stole.

Harrison, 51, has about $110,000 invested in Kiwisaver.

She is expected to argue it would be undue hardship for that to be forfeited, even if it was possible under KiwiSaver rules that strictly limit access to the money before retirement.

Joanne Harrison appeared via video link to a court for one appearance in August 2016. (File photo)

Joanne Harrison appeared via video link to a court for one appearance in August 2016. (File photo)

A legal argument at the High Court in Wellington on Friday was not completed because Justice Rebecca Ellis decided she needed more points covered than had been anticipated.

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Harrison, also known as Joanne Sharp, was sentenced to three years and seven months' jail in February, after taking more than $725,000 over about three years while she was a manager at the Ministry of Transport.

She had left New Zealand when her deception was revealed, but came back to face the charges and pleaded guilty.

The Commissioner of Police has asked the court to make orders that bank accounts, a 1.1-hectare property near the Bay of Islands, a Rolex watch, and the KiwiSaver money should be forfeited.

Friday's hearing was just about KiwiSaver.

Harrison's lawyer, Nathan Bourke, said the KiwiSaver money would be all Harrison would have when she was released from prison. People should not be paupers in their old age, he said.

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Her KiwiSaver came from legitimate income in New Zealand, and from employment savings schemes overseas.

A property forfeiture order would be unworkable, he said. The situation was no different to bankrupts, whose KiwiSaver accounts could not be opened to repay their debts.

But Emma Light, for police,  said not all Harrison's property was restrained with a view to having it forfeited, and authorities had not been able to discover where between $100,000 and $150,000 of the misappropriated money had gone. 

Harrison still had years in which she could work and save for her retirement.

There was a real possibility that, when she finished her sentence, Harrison, who was English, could leave New Zealand and after 12 months she could shift her KiwiSaver money – if it was not already forfeited – to another savings scheme overseas, Light said.

But questions remained about whether the KiwiSaver account could be cracked to repay the money, with one possibility being that a forfeiture order made now might not be able to be put into effect until Harrison turns 65.

The hearing might resume in October.

 - Stuff

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