John Friedrich (fraudster) : biography
Johann Friedrich Hohenberger OAM (7 September 195027 July 1991), also known as John Friedrich, was executive director of the National Safety Council of Australia during the 1980s. He the subject of Victoria's biggest fraud case and known as "Australia's greatest conman".
On 27 July 1991 he was found dead on his farm near Sale, Victoria with a single gunshot wound to the head. His death was ruled to be suicide.
Move to Australia
On 20 January 1975, Hohenberger arrived in Melbourne, Australia on a flight from Auckland, New Zealand. According to Department of Immigration records, Hohenberger left Australia on a flight to Singapore on 22 January. It is believed he tricked Australian Customs into believing he had boarded a plane but remained in Australia.
Using the name John Friedrich and fake qualifications, he obtained a contract with construction company Codelfa Cogefar, working on part of the Melbourne underground rail loop. He subsequently worked for the Board of Ecumenical Missions and Relations (BOEMAR), a Uniting Church in Australia organisation responsible for the Church's Aboriginal missions. He was offered the position of community adviser at Ernabella in South Australia, where he was to assist the Aboriginal community with its development and to supervise civil works.
While working in Ernabella, Friedrich became ill with a serious infection and was treated by nurse Shirley Manning. Friedrich and Manning became engaged in October 1975 and married on 10 February 1976 in Sydney. They moved to the BOEMAR mission on Mornington Island where Shirley Friedrich was to work as a nursing sister and John as the manager. During his time on Mornington, Friedrich was responsible to the Australian Government as well as to the Church. While the Church was only concerned with the day-to-day running of the island, as an agent of the government he acted as a coastal watcher for the Royal Australian Navy, a fisheries officer, a licensee for the government-owned pub, an agent for a shipping company and the airline that serviced the island, a reporting officer for the Department of Civil Aviation. Friedrich also began studying again while at Mornington, working on an external master's degree in engineering science with the University of Queensland. The Friedrichs resigned from BOEMAR in late 1976, but stayed to oversee relief opportunities until January 1977 after Cyclone Ted destroyed 90 per cent of all buildings on the island.
Early life and career
Hohenberger was a West German national. In August 1972 he began working as an independent contractor with the German road construction company Strassen und Teerbau. Around July 1974, he forged road building orders from distant mountain towns and used them to order Strassen und Teerbau to build roads. No roads were ever built, and no earthworks or materials were ever bought. Hohenberger embezzled DM200,000 from the company.
He was on a skiing holiday in Italy at the time German police issued a warrant for his arrest. He never returned to Germany. Having gone out onto the slopes and not returned, it was thought he had died. Although German police were sceptical of his disappearance, believing that somebody had tipped him off to the investigation, the discovery of his bags over a year later reinforced the theory that he had either had an accident or committed suicide.
Friedrich was writing an autobiography with the assistance of Richard Flanagan at the time of his death. It was published posthumously.John Friedrich with Richard Flanagan. Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich. Heinemann Australia, Port Melbourne, 1991. ISBN 0-85561-452-8. In it he claimed to have been born in South Australia in 1945 to German parents, attended boarding school in West Germany and studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule. He also claimed that while working for an American construction company he was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and under the codename "Iago" worked in Laos, Vietnam, Egypt, New Zealand and West Germany against far left-wing extremists before returning to Australia in 1975. Simon Caterson, writing in The Australian, described it as "one of the least reliable but most fascinating memoirs in the annals of Australian publishing".
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