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The Fraudster exposes the life and crimes of a million dollar conwoman

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Award-winning investigative team Stuff Circuit’s latest documentary exposes the cautionary tale of a woman who ripped off New Zealand businesses and government agencies, and a justice system which ensured her criminal history was kept secret.

‘The Fraudster’ reveals the life and crimes of Joanne Harrison, aka Joanne Sharp, aka Joanne Sidebottom - a charismatic, manipulative conwoman who has left a trail of deceit and despair in her wake. It uncovers a story that would have remained a secret due to a court-ordered name suppression.

Stuff Circuit reporter Paula Penfold says, "Harrison charmed her way through corporate and government jobs in New Zealand and Australia, leaving a trail of carnage. She duped senior executives who have been left shaking their heads at the fact they’d been taken in."

Her fraud at New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport made front page news in 2017 after she stole more than $700,000.

But the full story could not be told because the judge in a previous case was convinced she would not offend again, and granted her permanent name suppression.

Stuff Circuit went to court to successfully apply for name suppression to be lifted, so the full extent of her criminal history can finally be revealed.

It includes lying on her New Zealand visa application, creating fake job references, falsifying invoices and personal expenses - all while earning generous six-figure salaries.

Martin Matthews was Chief Executive at the Ministry of Transport during Joanne Harrison’s fraud, and now, with her name suppression lifted, he’s been able to tell Stuff Circuit the full story for the first time. He says he was responsible for bringing her to justice, but that he’s paid a "higher price than the criminal".

The political storm which erupted meant Matthews resigned - forced, he says - from his new position as Auditor General. "The effect that person has had on my life and my family is almost beyond explanation," he told the Circuit team. "I felt really let down by the legal system, that I’d been gagged all these years."

After serving time for the Ministry fraud, Joanne Harrison was deported back to the UK. A former colleague says, "As sure as God made little apples, she would have reinvented herself and she will be ripping someone off in England as we speak."

The Fraudster was produced with funding from NZ On Air. Scan the QR code below to watch the documentary and explore interactive content at www.stuff.co.nz/circuit. It will also be broadcast on Māori Television on Sunday 8 December at 7.30pm.

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