9 Aug 2023

Former realtor and DHB worker Alister Thorby accused of dishonestly obtaining $1.4m of MIQ funding

5:09 pm on 9 August 2023

By Jeremy Wilkinson, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

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Alister Thorby has entered not-guilty pleas to the charges and is scheduled to return to court later this month. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

A man accused of dishonestly obtaining just over $1.4 million of government funds during his time at the helm of a Covid response team was arrested at an airport as he was about to embark on a $92,000 holiday.

Alister Thorby was contracted by Capital and Coast District Health Board (the DHB), now known as Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley, between October 2021 and June 2022 for work as the Covid-19 response lead.

It was his job to arrange staffing at Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) facilities within the area but the Crown is now alleging Thorby did not provide around $1.4m worth of services he had invoiced the DHB for.

Thorby, whose company Moutoa Māori Wardens, trading as AT Consulting and Logistics Ltd, had the DHB contract, is now facing 12 charges of obtaining by deception.

As the case moves through Palmerston North District Court, the former real estate agent, who worked in both New Zealand and Australia, can now be named after the interim name suppression order protecting his identity recently lapsed.

Thorby has entered not guilty pleas to the charges and is scheduled to return to court later this month.

The Crown has alleged Thorby made lavish purchases with the money he has been accused of dishonestly obtaining, including to purchase a house in Foxton, several vehicles - including a motor home - and to book international travel.

A court document details how he was arrested at Auckland Airport in July 2022 as he was about to board a flight to Brisbane, the first leg of a planned month-long overseas trip for him and two friends at a cost of just over $92,000.

Among the services the Crown allege Thorby failed to provide, yet still billed for, was the "logistical support" as well as staffing and security for MIQ facilities in Central Wellington Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast.

The largest invoice Thorby's company sent to the DHB was for more than $300,000 and was for providing six staff as 24/7 security for 30 days in April 2022 at either $45 or $67.50 per hour. The location where they were providing security was not listed as part of the invoice.

According to court documents, other alleged invoices included totalled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for "logistical support" at a hotel-turned-MIQ facility in Wellington and for providing Māori wardens as security for a Supported Isolation Quarantine (SIQ) facility in Kāpiti.

However, the Crown alleged no work was actually provided by Thorby's company at the Kāpiti facility and, instead, the security was handled by a separate and unrelated business.

Thorby initially appeared on the charges in Manukau District Court in July last year but his case was later transferred to Palmerston North District Court.

Thorby was approached through his lawyer for comment.

* This story first appeared in the New Zealand Herald.