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Hunt for millionaires moves to Hong Kong

Published: 3:11PM Friday May 22, 2009 Source: ONE News

The Rotorua couple some are calling accidental millionaires have flown to China and still have close to $4 million of the  loot. 

Interpol and New Zealand police are searching for the Rotorua service station owner and his girlfriend after they gained a multi-million windfall through a bank's blunder.
Westpac Bank says it's vigorously pursuing the money it credited to an account by mistake.

Police have revealed the runaways headed to Hong Kong after abandoning their car at Auckland Airport.
The couple have been reported to be Leo Gao and his New Zealand girlfriend Cara Young.

ONE News tracked down Gao's old ute at Auckland International Airport, the scene of the couple's getaway.

Police are now looking for them in Hong Kong and in China's bustling Beijing.

Back in New Zealand, Westpac has confirmed it accidentally gave Gao an overdraft facility with a $10 million dollar limit.

Westpac says the customer had in place a temporary overdraft facility with a limit up to $100,000 and when the bank sought to formalise that limit an error occurred which opened up the limit to $10 million.

The bank says the customer then attempted to unlawfully transfer amounts totalling around $6.7 million.

To date $2.9 million has been recovered and the bank is continuing to vigorously pursue the outstanding amount of $3.8 million, says Westpac New Zealand Media relations Manager Craig Dowling.

"That will involve looking at where the money might have gone and the parties that might have been involved in receiving that money and recovering it from them," he says. 

Dowling says the incident appears to have been as a result of human error and did not involve the Rotorua Branch directly.

"We have taken and continue to take all necessary steps to prevent a mistake such as this happening again."

The couple appear to have successfully vanished.

Every tip or potential lead ONE New were given on Friday ended at locked houses and cases of mistaken identity.

The hunt for the stash of cash has also caught up another small city. Cara Young's mother lives in Blenheim.

She has called in sick at her hair salon and like everything else, her house was a dead end and shut up tight when ONE News called.

The mother is believed to have headed south to Milton in south Otago where the family used to live.

The accidental millionaires disappeared on May 7, telling friends they were going on holiday.

ONE News has been told they called their flatmate from Queenstown saying they had come into some money and wouldn't be back.

The next day, the petrol station Gao owned in Rotorua was put into receivership.

The service station has been stripped of its name, BP Barnett.

Bill Barnett, who opened the business back in 1962, can't believe it has ended like this.

"After all the years of building up a business and all the struggles, to suddenly see everything stripped like this, it's not very good," he says.

And while ONE News can't track down the former Rotorua couple, a Wellington man, Andy Curran, man faced a similar dilemma in the 1990s.

"Among one of our clients we had a cheque coming in for 60 thousand dollars and instead of the 60 thousand dollars we got a cheque for 60 million," says Curran, a former property developer.

He made do with a photo of the cheque, not a life on the run.

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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