'Accidental millionaire' case opens in NZ court

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am

Whether they were living it up in Hong Kong and Macau or adapting to life on the mainland, the couple who fled New Zealand with NZ$10 million (HK$55 million) of bank money had always remained one step ahead of the law - until now.

Kara Hurring, one of the 'accidental millionaires', as the pair is known in the New Zealand media, appeared in Rotorua District Court yesterday to face multimillion-dollar theft charges. Her former boyfriend, Leo Gao Hui, is still at large.

Hurring and Gao disappeared in May 2009 after a Westpac Bank employee transferred NZ$10 million instead of NZ$100,000 to Gao's bank account following a teller's 'keying error'. Westpac spotted the error after NZ$6.7 million was withdrawn, but retrieved less than half of that amount, leaving the couple with NZ$3.8 million.

A few weeks later, Gao spent NZ$658,643 at the Wynn Macau casino. The couple were partying in Macau and Hong Kong, according to Hurring's sister, Aroha, who joined the fugitives and posted updates on Facebook about their escapades.

However, the couple reportedly separated soon after they arrived in China, and Gao left Hurring with very little money. She returned to New Zealand voluntarily last month and was arrested at Auckland International Airport.

Hurring and Gao face one charge each of stealing NZ$6,782,000 from Westpac in the North Island city of Rotorua on April 24, 2009. They are also charged with eight counts each of laundering amounts ranging from NZ$362,968 to NZ$502,151.

Hurring's lawyer, Simon Lance, said she would fight the charges and that she denied any involvement in them. Hurring is to reappear in court on March 21.

Gao is believed to be on the mainland, and although China does not have an extradition treaty with New Zealand, police have said recently they are working with Chinese authorities to track him down.

'The investigation is continuing. However, it is transnational in nature, which means it is complex and can take time,' a police spokesman told The New Zealand Herald.

'We have been working with law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China for some time and we will continue to do so. We are appreciative of the support they have given to the investigation within the constraints of their own laws and we continue to have regular interactions on the case.'

Westpac tried and failed to recover some of its losses through the Hong Kong courts in 2009. The bank took legal action against Wynn International Marketing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wynn Resorts, in the Court of First Instance to recoup the NZ$658,643 Gao spent at the casino.

Mr Justice Ian Carlson said Westpac's action against Wynn was an attempt to extend High Court orders in New Zealand to freeze the assets of Gao's family. Carlson initially granted Westpac permission to freeze the assets, and papers were served on the casino's account with Dah Sing Bank, but the lack of detail in the order meant the bank froze the casino's entire account, not the NZ$658,643 sought by Westpac. The casino claimed the move caused considerable losses.

It also emerged that the freezing order made in Hong Kong should not have been granted because of a legal error.

Big payday

The amount, in NZ dollars, the pair allegedly got away with after Westpac's mistaken transfer of NZ$10 million: $3.8m