A former Channel Seven executive has been arrested after police alleged he misappropriated more than $8m from the media company through more than 700 false invoices, over 14 years.
John Fitzgerald was arrested at his home in Sydney’s Breakfast Point on Wednesday morning and taken to Burwood police station, where police said they intended to charge him.
Detective acting superintendent Richard Puffett said police will allege Fitzgerald issued hundreds of false invoices when working at Channel Seven, which “siphoned off [funds] to a number of bank accounts” over more than a decade.
Channel Seven itself reported the alleged fraud to police, and a special financial crimes strike force was set up in March 2017 to investigate the matter.
Puffett said police believed the funds had been put into superannuation and real estate investments.
“Police allege that the fraudulent activity has been ongoing for a number of years of this senior employee’s tenure at the company,” he told media on Wednesday.
“It spanned 14 years, approximately, from 2002 and … has totalled $8m in funds …Basically there have been a number of false invoices utilised. We will allege that this male has orchestrated the submission of these invoices. And this has resulted in the funds being siphoned off to a number of bank accounts that have been set up by this individual.
“There are no less than 700 invoices and incidents that relate to the $8m.”
Puffett would not comment on whether the charges, if proven, would result in jail time, but said it was “in the upper echelon” of offences.
“These sorts of offences are quite serious, the magnitude of criminality over the span of time, and the value, will put it in the upper echelon I imagine. But I can’t comment on the sentencing.
“We take it extremely seriously … we’d like to send the message that if you bite the hand that feeds you, we will come after you.”
Police said earlier on Wednesday they had arrested a 57-year-old man “as part of an investigation into a multimillion-dollar fraud against a media network”.
“Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Financial Crimes Squad established Strike Force Hamment to investigate the misappropriation of funds totalling more than $8m by a former employee of the network.
“Following extensive investigations, Strike Force Hamment detectives arrested a 57-year-old man at a home at Breakfast Point just before 8am today.”
Fitzgerald had worked for Seven West Media for more than 15 years, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In 2016, after the fraud allegations were first made, the company successfully applied for an injunction to freeze Fitzgerald’s assets. The parties reached a settlement in 2018.
Puffett said Channel Seven had approached police “after making their own internal enquiries”.