'Runaway millionaires' sentenced

By Edward Gay

Kara Hurring and Leo Gao are being sentenced today. Photo / Janna Dixon
Kara Hurring and Leo Gao are being sentenced today. Photo / Janna Dixon

The man dubbed the "accidental millionaire" has been sentenced to four years and seven months in prison while his former partner will serve nine months home detention.

Hui "Leo'' Gao was sentenced today at the Rotorua District Court after previously admitting to seven charges that involved stealing $6.7 million.

Judge Phillip Cooper said while the offending was opportunistic, Gao had tried to get as much of the money out of the country as possible and there was still more than $3.8m missing.

Judge Cooper said Hurring's role had been "significantly less'' and she needed to look after the couple's two children.

He ordered her to pay reparations of $75 a week for the $11,800 that she spent.

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said Gao had a high level of culpability and questioned how he could be remorseful given so much was still accounted for.

Gao's lawyer Ron Mansfield said his client could not resist the temptation.

"Your Honour, some say the greatest temptation was faced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden but these are modern times for a man trying to keep the doors of his small business open, $10m placed in his bank account was a very great temptation.''

He said Gao had served time on electronically monitored bail and in prison.

Mr Mansfield said his client had no premeditation and had not used any fraudulent means to steal the money.

The court heard how Gao transferred cash into overseas bank accounts held by his parents before fleeing New Zealand.

According to the police summary of facts, days after applying for a $100,000 bank overdraft for his struggling Rotorua BP petrol station, the 32-year-old realised the bank had mistakenly given him a $10m limit.

A flatmate overheard him yelling in April 2009 "f***ing rich ... I've got $1m''.

Gao then set about transferring millions from his business account to personal accounts in his name and those of his parents.

A total of $6.78m was transferred. Some went through remittance companies to accounts in China and Hong Kong.

Gao also transferred more than $347,000 to casino accounts in the Asian gambling capital of Macau before fleeing New Zealand.

Hurring, followed days later and opened a "player's account'' at the casino with her passport.

A further $2.179m was transferred to the same Macau casino. This time the "player's account'' was in the name of Gao's father, Alex Wang.

The couple's disappearance sparked an international manhunt involving Interpol and other overseas agencies.

Gao was arrested last September when he tried to cross from mainland China to Hong Kong and triggered an Interpol alert.

He did not oppose being extradited and was returned to New Zealand just before Christmas in the company of police.

Hurring, 33, was arrested when she re-entered New Zealand last year.

Following a trial at the Rotorua District Court in May, she was found guilty of 25 counts of theft, three counts of attempting to dishonestly use a documents and two counts of money laundering.

Her lawyer Simon Lance told the court that Hurring had been working part time as a beautician and living with her mother in a small town.

He said Hurring had spent more than $11,000 in New Zealand but had not been extravagant and one of the charges related to a $14 McDonalds meal.

"She probably got a Big Mac Combo and a Happy Meal but no apple pie.''

He said Hurring's role was secondary and pointed out that she returned to New Zealand voluntarily.

TIMELINE

April 19, 2009: Gao applies for an overdraft of $100,000

April 21: Westpac makes an error and provides an overdraft of $10 million

April 24-May 4: Funds totalling $6.7m withdrawn from the petrol station account

April 27: Gao's mother leaves New Zealand

April 29: Gao leaves New Zealand. Hurring makes transactions on an ATM card and follows Gao overseas

May 4: Westpac learns of its mistake

August 9: Westpac employee who made the mistake is sacked after making another mistake. No money lost this time

February 25, 2011: Hurring arrested after returning to New Zealand

September 30: Gao arrested in Hong Kong

December 21: Gao returns to New Zealand under police guard

May 18, 2012: Hurring found guilty on 30 charges after a four-day trial in Rotorua

June 12: Gao pleads guilty to seven theft charges

August 24: Gao and Hurring sentenced

- APNZ

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