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Accused Westpac 'runaway millionaire' behind bars

Published: 12:21PM Wednesday December 21, 2011 Source: ONE News

The man dubbed the "runaway millionaire" has been sent straight to prison after arriving back in the country earlier today.

Leo Gao, 30, appeared in the Manukau District Court this afternoon facing 16 charges of theft and money laundering.

He has been remanded in custody until Friday, and his case has been referred to Rotorua. Police have opposed bail.

Westpac mistakenly loaded $10 million into Gao's account after he applied for a $100,000 overdraft in April 2009 to keep his Rotorua service station in business.

He then allegedly skipped the country and was arrested in Hong Kong in September and appeared in court in October.

The arrest followed a two-and-a-half year police operation.

He had been remanded in custody in Hong Kong while the extradition process was started.

New Zealand police received notification this month that extradition approval had been granted by Hong Kong authorities.

Police understand that the man did not contest the extradition.

Two detectives travelled to Hong Kong to escort Gao back to New Zealand.

The team arrived back into New Zealand at 11.30am.

The officer in charge of the investigation, detective inspector Mark Loper, says today's developments are extremely satisfying.

"However, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that people are held accountable for this substantial theft.

"Operation Westpac has remained a very active investigation over the past two and a half years, involving a number of New Zealand Police staff from Rotorua, around New Zealand, in China and Hong Kong.

"There has been a significant amount of work underway behind the scenes - but for obvious reasons we haven't been in a position to discuss it."

It is alleged Gao transferred $6,782,000 of the money into other accounts.

The error was discovered on May 5 and half of the money was recovered from New Zealand accounts.

But that left an outstanding sum of $3,872,000 unrecovered.

Gao and girlfriend Kara Hurring, 32, left the country and authorities have been working to recover outstanding funds.

Hurring came home this year and was arrested. She is due to stand trial in February.

- with Newstalk ZB