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Global hunt for accidental multi-millionaires

Published: 10:24AM Thursday May 21, 2009 Source: ONE News

A worldwide hunt is on for a couple who have got away with millions of dollars, leaving a leading New Zealand bank red faced and putting the country's tourist city in the international spotlight.

The couple ran a BP service station at Rotorua, are understood to have applied for a $10,000 overdraft from Westpac and were mistakenly paid up to $10 million.
Now the international police agency Interpol has been called into the hunt for the couple, Leo Gao and his Kiwi girlfriend Kara. 

Their neighbours have been sitting on the story for more than a week.

"Saturday, Sunday we realised something else was up," says Tania Davies, a Rotorua resident.

"They'd' done a runner," she says.

Davies says she thought that just cant' happen.
Chevi Lambert, another Rotorua resident, says a private investigator came and asked if  they had seen Leo and Kara.

Lambert says the couple are just ordinary people.

You may think this is a small city's rumour mill in overdrive. But late Thursday police confirmed they are investigating a sum of money that has been withdrawn from a Westpac account.

"The individuals involved in that business account has left New Zealand," says Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey of Rotorua police.

Little else is being revealed.

How the great getaway unfolded

ONE News understands Leo Gao applied for a $10,000 loan.

Westpac mistakenly deposited 1000 times that amount into his account on or about May 5.

The next day, Wednesday May 6,  the service station, BP Barnett, shut its doors.

On Thursday May 7, the owners of the service station disappeared.

By Friday May 8, the service station place was put into receivership.

"From what we hard it'd been going steadily down hill," says Lambert.

At the couple's Rotorua townhouse on Thursday (May 21), the gardner was the only one making much noise. Neighbours ONE News spoke to say they haven't seen Gao for a couple of weeks.

ONE News also went to the $700,000 house Gao owns in west Auckland and were told he was overseas.

"Westpac Bank has recovered some of the money which has been inappropriately withdrawn from that account," says Harvey.

Westpac would not front for ONE News on Thursday but issued a statement.
"Westpac is pursing vigourous criminal and civil action to recover a sum of money stolen," the statement says.

And it's the topic of the day in Rotorua - keep the money or run? 

"Oh I don't think I keep it," says one man.

Interpol has been called in and there's an alert out for the missing Rotorua pair.

"It's such a big world he could just disappear," says Lambert.

And with his partner he could take to heart Westpac's motto: "Making the most of life".

What would you do? Run with the money or give it back? Ever found a sum of money in your account, you knew wasn't your? Share on our message board below!

Do you know anything about the couple who have fled? If so we would love to hear from you. Contact our news team at

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  • siping said on 2009-08-28 @ 16:35 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I think Mr bentley is either living in a dream world or has ideas of NZ well above its station. Why would the Chinese gvt want to help NZ is one question, but to suggest we put pressure on China is ludicrous, NZ is, comparatively, a backward little puddle in the Pacific which no one outside of her shores takes seriously. Most Chinese I talk to here think Gao is a national hero.

  • pratalno said on 2009-08-28 @ 15:49 NZDT: Report abusive post

    If they are in fact in HK, they'll certainly be caught at some stage. But if they are in Mainland China they will be able to live well forever here with that money and very unlikely to get caught (unless they want to leave the country) and if ever a police officer turned up, treat them to a dinner and flick them some cash and they'll turn a blind eye - that's the way it works here. Maybe they are quite smart~ :)

  • benrebo said on 2009-05-27 @ 09:56 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Interestingly when the commerce commission rules banks have wrongly charged people (millions), and refused to give the money back when customers made them aware of it, they just get told to refund - no criminal charges. When someone takes money off them, and keeps it after the bank makes them aware of it, they are a criminal. Gao should be able to pay them back or if not face bankruptcy

  • rosebee said on 2009-05-27 @ 05:08 NZDT: Report abusive post

    $3.8m? How long will that last. No surprise he went bust if this typifies his risk/benefit analysis

  • said on 2009-05-25 @ 09:51 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I hope they are caught. I was credits with 250k once in my bank account. Told the bank straight away, it was actually a transfer error on the part of another customer. Got a nice letter of thanks from both the bank and the customer for that. Personally I think living like they are and having to look over your shoulder, waiting for that heavy hand of the law, would be too much. Na, honesty is the best policy