A greying Leo Gao looked nervous and tired as he stood in the dock, and a former associate said he had "aged considerably" since he fled New Zealand more than two years ago millions of dollars richer.
The man dubbed the runaway millionaire was dressed smartly in a blue suit and white shirt and acknowledged a man sitting in the gallery as he entered Rotorua District Court yesterday to face multiple charges.
The 31-year-old, listed in court documents as Hui Gao, faces 17 charges of theft relating to almost $6.8 million after a bank error accidentally credited him with $10 million.
One is a joint charge with Kara Hurring.
The remaining charges relate to alleged money laundering.
The charges stem from offending allegedly committed between April 24 and May 5, 2009, in Rotorua but mostly in Auckland, before Gao left the country on April 29.
Hurring followed him and left New Zealand on May 3.
Lawyer Ron Mansfield said Gao would apply for electronically monitored bail at his next court appearance.
The application has been delayed so a report can be prepared on the suitability of his listed bail address.
A former associate, who asked not to be named, said she knew Gao well when he lived in Rotorua and used to drink with her brother regularly.
She said his short black hair had greyed "heaps" since she last saw him, about a week before he left New Zealand in 2009.
"He looks old, a lot older than he used to, he has aged considerably," she said.
"He used to be quite a handsome man, he looked quite nervous and scared in there."
Gao was arrested in September when he tried to cross from mainland China to Hong Kong - triggering an Interpol alert - and has been in custody since.
Judge Jocelyn Munro remanded him in custody until his next appearance on January 23.
Hurring, 32, was arrested when she re-entered New Zealand last year and is to stand trial next month.By James Ihaka Email James