IT’S APRIL Fool’s Day and Australian state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen stands beside a serial fraudster who is playing a grotesque prank on Queensland.
Joh has been taken for a ride by a dud Czech who is bouncing around the South Pacific with a fake cancer cure.
The Queensland Premier has been sucked in hook, line and sinker. Joh is so proud of his association with the nefarious Milan Brych (pronounced Brick) that he wants the world to know all about his gullibility.
So here is the most powerful politician in Queensland on the front page of The Courier-Mail advertising his naivety.
All the time the snake oil salesman next to him grins like a Cheshire cat.
Queensland’s brightest medical minds tell Joh that the self-styled cancer guru is a quack and that Joh will end up with egg all over his face.
But the Premier says “don’t you worry about that’’ stressing that the smarmy charlatan is the man to put Queensland on the international map for medical science.
Brych was the worst kind of conman — giving false hope to the desperately ill.
And taking a fortune from their dying hands.
His cancer clinic in Rarotonga, on the Cook Islands, was seen by many terminal cancer patients as their last hope and they were willing to pay anything for a cure.
The many who died, considerably poorer, after being deceived were buried in what become known as the Brych-yard.
Despite the scandals on Brych’s CV, Joh wanted him for Queensland, telling reporters that the cancer man’s critics “better lay off’’ or they would “make real fools of themselves’’. Brych’s cancer clinic would definitely be going ahead, Joh said.
He ordered Health Minister, Llew Edwards, to approve Brych as a doctor to practise in Queensland but Edwards refused. Joh threatened to fire Edwards, but the minister held to his principles.
On April 1, 1978 The Courier-Mail’s front page told readers that Joh wanted the cancer clinic in Brisbane within two months.
The premier and the pretender posed together at the Executive Building and while the Moscow Circus on Ice was in town that week, performing at Victoria Park, Joh provided more shocks than the wobbly bears on skates.
He told reporter Peter Morley that he believed the clinic would become the centre of world attention. He said the Government would support Brych’s clinic and there were only “one or two things’’ that had to be sorted out. No.1, of course, was that Brych wasn’t really a doctor.
Fifteen cancer specialists left a Brisbane meeting with the shonk convinced that Brych had absolutely nothing to offer.
The Courier-Mail reported that Edwards, who graduated as a doctor in 1965, had always been reluctant to support Joh’s 18-month campaign to bring Brych to Brisbane.
Put on the spot about just how he could cure cancer, Brych said he was not going to be interrogated and when Edwards offered to send doctors to Rarotonga to study his methods, Brych refused.
According to brychyard.info, a website “dedicated to the memory to those dear souls who lost their lives’’ on Rarotonga, the false hope that Brych gave to his patients while “extracting large sums of money’’ for his treatments “remains as a sadness in everyone’s heart’’.
Brych is said to have treated hundreds of patients on the Cook Islands, most of them from Australia. He charged up to $10,000 a time — about $50,000 in 2016 values. Many of the graves have since been washed out to sea because of erosion.
Brych was born Vlastimil Brych on December 11, 1939 in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
After the 1968 Soviet invasion there, he fled to Italy before arriving in New Zealand as a refugee. He told authorities he had studied medicine at the University of Brno.
A Courier-Mail investigation later found Brych was registered as a doctor in New Zealand in 1972. He worked in pathology at Auckland Hospital before being appointed registrar of the radiotherapy department.
Later, as a fully-registered specialist, he began treating gravely ill cancer patients with a secret chemotherapy-immunology technique that he claimed promoted the body’s immune responses.
The dubious NZ medical establishment made inquiries which established he had not trained as a doctor but, instead, had worked as a medical orderly.
AT THE time Brych said he was in university he had actually been serving seven years in a Czech prison for robbery.
Brych was deregistered in 1974 by the New Zealand Medical Council but found a sympathetic ear when he approached Cook Islands premier Sir Albert Henry for help, receiving permission to open a cancer treatment and research clinic.
Between April 1977 and August 1978, when Brych was finally booted from the Cook Islands, he reportedly treated about 200 Australian cancer patients at the Rarotonga clinic.
Some patients, given only a short time to live and paying heavily for Brych’s techniques, claimed significant remissions as he pumped them full of drugs. But for almost all of them it was a false hope.
“They arrived at the airport looking like people who had been in concentration camps,’’ former Cook Islands government secretary Gordon Sawtell, told The Courier-Mail.
“Brych made outlandish claims of an 80 per cent success rate in curing cancer. I believe his super optimism lengthened a lot of lives.’’
Finally discredited in the Cook Islands and facing expulsion, Brych turned to Queensland and found an ally in Joh, who swallowed all the stories about Brych’s cure based on apricot kernels.
But the Queensland medical fraternity stood firm against the shyster.
Dr Keith Mowatt, one of the founding fathers of what became Cancer Council Queensland, was outraged over Joh courting a fraud and spent hours with Llew Edwards planning on how to protect patients and their families from being exploited while at their most vulnerable.
At a 1978 Brisbane press conference where Brych faced a sceptical media scrum, the scammer was asked by reporters several times if he was a charlatan.
He tersely replied, “Of course I am not.’’
When called on to give one good reason why the public should not believe the legion of doctors and politicians who doubted his methods, he bizarrely responded: “That is the same as me asking you to give me one good reason to prove you’re not homosexual.’’
He said the Queensland media was hysterical, insulting and impertinent.
Edwards replied by tabling in Parliament a series of documents claiming Brych was a highly intelligent psychopath.
With his path to the pockets of Queensland’s desperate now blocked, Brych took off to find new victims among the rich and gullible of Hollywood.
He lived in a Bel Air mansion and drove a Rolls-Royce in between practising on new cancer patients.
But he fell into a police sting, diagnosing an undercover cop as having cancer and recommending his treatment, even though the cop was not ill.
Brych was charged with “fraudulently providing treatment to arrest cancer and having practised medicine without a licence’’.
Joh still stuck by him, though, saying Brych was being “persecuted’’.
Described in his seven-month trial as a callous conman who had preyed on the desperation of terminal cancer patients, Brych claimed in his defence to have treated actress Jacqueline Bisset and the wives of former US president Gerald Ford and vice-president Nelson Rockefeller. He claimed to have treated Joh for a non-malignant cancer, which Joh later denied.
Brych was a convincing spruiker, but he couldn’t sway the jury.
He was sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 1986, for “exemplary conduct’’ after serving half his sentence.
He headed for Tahiti.
The Courier-Mail’s Ken Blanch reported that Brych claimed he had spent most of his time behind bars studying cancer treatments.
From a Tahitian seaside resort, where he was staying with his second wife Marilyn, Brych said he maintained his right to treat cancer sufferers.
He was interested when told a Brisbane woman he had treated in the Cook Islands eight years earlier, after she had been pronounced terminally ill by a Brisbane specialist, was still cancer-free.
Fears by Kiwi doctors that Brych would start a clandestine clinic back in New Zealand were dispelled in 1989 when it was revealed he had moved to Switzerland and was working in cancer research for a drug company under an assumed name.
A 2012 Television New Zealand documentary suggested he was now living in London.
- The Courier Mail