Brisbane, Australia Magistrates Court charges two cotton farmers with $20m fraud

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

On Tuesday, two officers of cotton farming conglomerate Norman Farming in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for alleged fraud of the government. Queensland Police alleged over the past seven years the farmers submitted fraudulent claims to receive funding from Queensland's Department of Natural Resources, resulting in an approximately AUD20 million dishonest personal financial gain. The Court laid charges and released the defendants on bail.

According to the results of the investigation by Police, the two men allegedly falsified documents, including invoices, misrepresenting work from contractors as earthwork supposedly in aid of improving water irrigation efficiency. The two allegedly presented farming-related work on their property on six projects as aimed at improving the efficiency of water irrigation at their property near Goondiwindi.

Police arrested the chief executive officer (CEO) of the conglomerate, 43-year-old John Norman, and the conglomerate's chief financial officer, 53-year-old Stephen Evans. They appeared in Court represented by their lawyers. In the Court they were charged, Norman with six and Evans with four counts of aggravated fraud, Norman with six and Evans with four counts of fraudulently producing or using a false record. Police opposed bail, however the Magistrate released the two on bail conditionally, requiring they surrender their passports.

According to reports by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian, neighbours of Norman Farming had complained to the authorities about Norman Farming's work resulting in excessive removal of floodwater from the McIntyre river, leading to reduced availability of water for the farmers downstream.

Queensland's Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy provided the funding as a part of its Healthy Head Waters scheme. Detective Inspector Mick Dowie said the Department did not have the authority of police to compel provision of documents, leading to difficulty with verifying the invoices which the two submitted in their application.

Dowie said the investigation took over a year to complete, including analysis of accounting reports.


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