A New Zealand man who fled to China and was arrested in Hong Kong after a bank mistakenly deposited millions of dollars into his account was jailed for four years and seven months yesterday.
Hui "Leo" Gao and his then-partner Kara Hurring skipped New Zealand when Westpac bank accidentally put NZ$10 million into Gao's account in April 2009 after he requested a NZ$100,000 overdraft arrangement.
The error was discovered within days, but by then Gao had transferred NZ$6.78 million into offshore bank accounts and the pair dubbed the "runaway millionaires" had left the country.
Gao was on the run for more than two years before he was arrested at Interpol's request in September as he tried to enter Hong Kong from mainland China. He was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court yesterday after earlier pleading guilty to seven theft charges.
Hurring, who was convicted on lesser charges of money laundering, was sentenced to nine months' home detention in the same court and ordered to repay almost NZ$12,000 she had obtained using Gao's credit card.
Hurring had a baby son with Gao when they were on the run, but the couple broke up while they were fugitives. She voluntarily returned to New Zealand in February last year to give herself up to the authorities.
The court was told that NZ$3.8 million of the money remains unrecovered and Gao had provided no explanation about what happened to it.
Judge Philip Cooper said Gao's offending was opportunistic rather than premeditated, but the punishment reflected the fact that he deliberately moved the money offshore and avoided capture for as long as possible.
"You were arrested because you were located by Hong Kong authorities, not because you handed yourself in," the judge said in sentencing.