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Minister considers future of health board chairman after $17 milliion fraud

Health Minister Tony Ryall has confirmed he is considering sacking Otago District Health Board chairman Richard Thomson over the board’s handling of a $17m fraud devised by former IT boss Michael Swann.

In a three-line statement, Mr Ryall said he was writing to the board as he was “considering removing the current chair.”

"I expect accountability in the public health system and we are now following due process," the minister said, adding there would be no further comment.

His statement follows a meeting between the minister, Mr Thomson, and board chief executive Brian Rousseau in Wellington last week in which Mr Ryall sought answers as to how the fraud could go on for so long without the board being aware of it.

Mr Ryall told NBR last week the case had “severely dented” public confidence in the board and that his job was to restore it.

Swann and his friend and associate Kerry Harford are in custody awaiting their March 11 sentencing for perpetrating the $16.9 million fraud between 2000 and 2006.

While Mr Ryall is insisting on following due process, he is unlikely to linger in removing Mr Thomson, who is a government-appointed chairman but also an elected board member.

The minister will want to minimize the political fallout in a case which has seldom been out of the limelight in recent months.

Mr Thomson has been defiant in his insistence that the board is not responsible for Swann’s criminal actions and that it did all it could to remedy the situation once the fraud eventually came to light.

More by by Mark Peart