A Queensland tradesman who claimed to have a $2bn fortune when fronting court on drug charges could face prosecution for perverting the course of justice after reportedly using a fake banking app to dupe his lawyer.
A duty lawyer acting for Phillip Johnathan Harrison told Brisbane magistrates court he had shared police concerns about his client’s mental health until he logged into an online account showing the bricklayer and carpenter held $596m in cash and $1.56bn in other assets.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t have seen it with my own eyes but I logged on to Commonwealth Bank and it was there,” Nick Hanly told the court on Saturday.
The Queensland Law Society president, Bill Potts, said this twist in the case, if proven, could give police scope to investigate whether Harrison had attempted to pervert the course of justice.
Harrison would rank on Australia’s rich list above a string of high-profile billionaires should the grandiose claims of his net worth be true. But a search of records shows that Harrison, who lives in a modest rented brick bungalow in Tewantin on the Sunshine Coast, owns no properties.
A search of a government register shows an active Australian business number entry in Harrison’s name and postcode, suggesting an annual income of less than $75,000 as a sole trader who is not registered for the goods and services tax.
The prospect of Harrison having access to hundreds of millions in cash prompted a police prosecutor, Sean Francis, to raise concerns about him being a flight risk, with the magistrate Anthony Gett ordering he surrender his passport before being granted bail.
Potts said Harrison’s lawyer had “acted faultlessly, taking instructions under difficult circumstances in the watchhouse from a person he had never met before”.
“Faced with a story that on its face seems farfetched, the lawyer made proper inquires and behaved ethically,” he said. “In criminal law, truth is often stranger than fiction.
“If it turns out the lawyer has been misled and has placed this material on the record on instruction and in his client’s presence, potentially the police may look at investigating whether Mr Harrison has in fact attempted to pervert the course of justice.”
Harrison told police he had been “set up by the government and was worth $12bn” when he was pulled over in an Audi and allegedly found with 12 grams of ice in Brisbane on Friday, Hanly told the court.
Harrison told the lawyer the government had given him the car, that he controlled Australia’s benchmark stock index the ASX 200 but he was “not at liberty to say” how he had come by his fortune.
“At this point I was considering getting mental health to come in and check [but] he said, ‘No, I won’t do that, I’ll show proof,’” Hanly said.
“So I allowed him to give his net banking details and I logged on to his account and it showed he had a cash balance of $596m and a property value of $1.56bn.”
Hanly said it was “one of the most bizarre cases I’ve ever come across”.
“I can’t say that what he’s saying in relation to the government is true, that certainly does read as something that needs a mental health assessment,” he said. “But all I can say is that when I was shown … and I must admit even standing here making this submission I find it difficult, that I saw it, but I saw it and wrote the figures down.
“It was certainly to a registered Commonwealth Bank account and website … given the user name and then user number and password, I ensured that it was the Commonwealth Bank website, I made sure it was the Commonwealth Bank net banking … beyond that I can’t say whether or not there’s been some glitch that has added $596m into his account.”
Outside court, Harrison accused his lawyer of being “delusional” as he had told him that he held only $1.2m in property, the rest of the $1.56bn being held in shares.
“My lawyer was delusional, I told him not to say it, duty solicitor not very good,” he told the ABC. “I just have to have a bit of a think about what the hell’s gone on here. A lot of wrong has been done here, that’s for sure.”
Harrison said he had made his money through “investments, my ideas in cars, apps trade, I sold them overseas, have been for years”.
His client faced a minimal chance of serving jail time on the drug offences, given he had indicated he was willing to plead guilty and his lack of relevant criminal history, Hanly told the court.
Harrison is due to appear again in Brisbane magistrates court on 18 April on charges including drug possession and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.