'Fake prince' fortune to be auctioned in Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) - A trove of luxury goods including a fake crown amassed by a health executive in Australia who claimed to be a Tahitian prince as he allegedly embezzled millions is to be sold off, officials said Monday.

New Zealand-born Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, also known as Joel Barlow, is due to appear in court next month over his alleged defrauding of up to Aus$16 million (S$20 million) from Queensland state's health department where he worked as a top executive.

Posing as a Tahitian prince in social circles, Morehu-Barlow enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with an exclusive waterfront apartment, several sports cars and an array of luxury goods, allegedly funded by his theft.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said items from the former executive's estate were to be auctioned next month in a bid to retrieve the millions he is accused of stealing.

"The return of these funds... will go a long way in the provision of essential frontline services," said Mr Springborg.

Morehu-Barlow's riverside apartment sold recently for Aus$5.65 million and some 1,000 items seized from the property under proceeds of crime legislation are to be raffled in Brisbane on March 10, according to the auctioneers.

"This estate comprises of almost 1,000 lots of the best of luxury goods, furniture, jewellery, electrical items, clothing and accessories, books, artwork, curios and lots more," the catalogue says.

Morehu-Barlow's art holdings included works by Australians Brett Whiteley, John Olsen and Arthur Boyd, and he reportedly owned the largest Louis Vuitton accessories collection in the Southern Hemisphere, with hundreds of individual pieces.

A fake crown, Hermes saddle, Aus$95,000 television, 19th century naval hat, grand piano, Aus$25,000 bottle of French cognac, replica robots, surfboard, golf clubs and huge range of luxury clothing are reportedly among the items.

Mr Springborg said some Aus$11 million of the anticipated sales had already been committed to cancer, stroke, anti-smoking, vaccination and Aboriginal health initiatives.

"We are repairing the damage to local health services caused by years of financial mismanagement and lax standards," said Mr Springborg.

"People at the auction can join in and help us turn things around."

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