NZ fugitive held at Hong Kong border
John Carney and Niall Fraser
The law has finally caught up with Leo Gao Hui, one of New Zealand's two 'accidental millionaires', who has been on the run from authorities for 21/2 years.
Gao was stopped at Lok Ma Chau as he was crossing into Hong Kong from the mainland on Thursday. He was arrested on a warrant relating to New Zealand theft and money laundering charges. He appeared at Eastern Court yesterday where he was remanded in custody until November 28. His application for bail was turned down.
In April 2009, the 30-year-old along with his then-girlfriend Kara Hurring fled New Zealand after Westpac Bank accidentally transferred NZ$10 million (HK$60.48 million) instead of NZ$100,000 to Gao's account following a teller's 'keying error'.
Westpac spotted the error after NZ$6,782,000 was withdrawn, but retrieved less than half of that amount, leaving the couple with NZ$3,872,000.
It is alleged that Gao transferred NZ$6,782,000 of the money into other accounts, and then the couple both left New Zealand for Hong Kong - Gao on April 29 and Hurring on May 3. Hurring, was arrested on related charges when she re-entered New Zealand earlier this year. While on the run Hurring became pregnant and gave birth to a boy in Hong Kong last year. She is due to stand trial in February 2012.
The couple disappeared along with Leena, Hurring's seven-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. Hurring's solicitor, Simon Lance, confirmed that the child was 'still living in southern China with relatives.'
Wearing a white T-shirt and jeans in court yesterday, Gao looked nothing like the millionaire who had lived it up in Macau and Hong Kong.
His solicitor said he had been working in Shenzhen as a financial clerk.
The officer-in-charge of the New Zealand investigation, Detective Inspector Mark Loper, said Operation Westpac had remained very active investigation during the past 36 months, involving a number of New Zealand police staff from across New Zealand, and in China and Hong Kong.
'There has been a significant amount of work under way behind the scenes - but for obvious reasons we haven't been in a position to discuss it,' he said.
Loper said this latest development was a demonstration of that ongoing work. 'Even after Hurring's arrest, our focus remained on eventually being able to speak to the other alleged offender,' he said.
'The arrest in Hong Kong reinforces the determination and tenacity of New Zealand Police and our investigation team and I'd like to acknowledge the hard work of everyone involved.'
Loper said that work did not finish with the arrest of Gao.
He said it was not yet known whether extradition proceedings would need to commence, as Gao would be given the opportunity to return to New Zealand voluntarily.