Fake Tahitian prince admits embezzling $20.3m from Australian health department

BRISBANE (AFP) - A man who led a playboy lifestyle while claiming to be a Tahitian prince pleaded guilty on Tuesday to embezzling A$16 million (S$20.3 million) from an Australian health department.

New Zealand-born Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, also known as Joel Barlow, admitted eight offences including aggravated fraud as an employee and forgery in the Brisbane District Court.

The charges relate to the 37-year-old defrauding the state government when he worked for Queensland Health between 2007 and 2011.

"The funds diverted by (Morehu-Barlow) were public monies earmarked ... to support charities and other community groups," prosecutor Todd Fuller told the court, the Brisbane Courier-Mail reported.

"The money was used to fund a lavish lifestyle ... (for a so-called) Tahitian prince forced to work to gain his (royal) inheritance."

The court heard that Morehu-Barlow regularly signed bank documents using the letters HRH, short for His Royal Highness.

When he was arrested in 2011, police found a trove of luxury goods including a fake crown, in his exclusive waterfront apartment, allegedly funded by his theft.

Many of the hundreds of items seized were auctioned earlier this month, including a life-size horse lamp, a Hermes saddle, a Chanel black wristwatch and a Louis Vuitton surf board.

The prosecution is seeking a jail sentence of between 14 and 16 years.