21 Sep 2017

$1.6m stolen from church to fund gambling habit

4:14 pm on 21 September 2017

A staff member who stole more than $1.5 million from an Auckland church to fund a gambling habit has been jailed.

Pokie machines.

The stolen money was used to pay for a gambling addiction. Photo: RNZ

Elizabeth Papu, the former finance administrator at the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church, was today sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.

Charities Services began an investigation into the church in October 2013 and their findings were passed onto the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 2015.

Papu, 52, had her name suppression lifted at sentencing today at the Manukau District Court after pleading guilty to two charges in May.

Papu admitted taking about $1.6m from the church without permission to fuel her gambling habit, manipulating financial records to hide her actions.

SFO director Julie Read said Papu had full responsibility for the church's bank accounts.

"That authority to record transactions and reconcile bank statements allowed her to manipulate the church's financial records and disguise her theft. The absence of any segregation of duties or oversight in respect of Ms Papu's role created the opportunity for her to misappropriate the church's funds."