Cops scour Coast for alleged thief

SUNSHINE Coast police are on the look-out for a public servant accused of ripping off Queensland Health for $16 million.

Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, also known as Joel Barlow, was believed to be in south-east Queensland last night after it was discovered on Thursday he had been allegedly transferring millions of dollars into private accounts.

The 36-year-old was the manager of the finance division of the community services branch at Queensland Health.

A total of $16 million has allegedly been siphoned off in the past two to three years, with one payment of $11 million allegedly being made in the past fortnight, Premier Anna Bligh said.

A departmental officer noticed a discrepancy in payments and raised the alarm on Thursday.

Police have seized Mr Barlow's assets and Ms Bligh says it could be the most serious case of alleged fraud in the history of Queensland public administration.

Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett alleged Mr Morehu-Barlow had several aliases and businesses and his assets were worth about $12 million.

Mr Barnett would not rule out that other people might be involved.

"We started looking for Mr Barlow late last night and we have visited a number of addresses and obviously we've been unable to find him," Mr Barnett said yesterday.

"We've taken action today to preserve the estate."

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said Mr Morehu-Barlow had allegedly succeeded in defrauding the government by forging a signature.

Ms Bligh said Mr Morehu-Barlow worked in a department that allocated grant funds to non-government health agencies.

Ms Bligh said it was possible the auditor-general had missed the alleged fraud in the last two audits.

"That's why we have brought independent, external auditors to do a forensic analysis of the finances of that division in that department," Ms Bligh said.

Police have described Mr Morehu-Barlow as Pacific Islander in appearance, about 180cm tall, with short black hair and a solid build. He has a large tattoo of angel wings on his back.