Runaway millionaire pleads guilty

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 09:28 12/06/2012
Kara Hurring
TRACEY ROBINSON/Fairfax NZ
KARA HURRING: Found guilty in Rotorua on 30 counts of theft, dishonestly using a bank card and money laundering.
LEO GAO
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
LEO GAO:Leaves Auckland District Court this morning.

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Runaway millionaire Leo Gao has pleaded guilty to theft of more than $6 million.

Hui Gao, known as Leo, originally faced 16 charges of theft and 11 of money laundering after Westpac accidentally loaded a $10 million overdraft on his account in April 2009, rather than the $100,000 he had applied for.

The former Rotorua service station owner made international headlines when he and his partner Kara Hurring fled the country after they took advantage of the overdraft rather than report it to the bank.

He pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court today to seven counts of theft.

The offending began on April 24, 2009, when Gao transferred $500,000 out of his $10m Westpac overdraft.

In several instalments, the largest of which was $2.3m, Gao transferred $6,782,000 into his account before he and Hurring fled to China.

Gao left first on April 29, 2009, with Hurring allegedly following him on May 3.

The banking error was not discovered until May 5 and a scramble to get back the missing millions still left $3,872,000 unrecovered. About $3m is still outstanding.

Gao, 31, was finally arrested, crossing from China to Hong Kong in September 2011, 2 1/2 years after Rotorua police launched an investigation.

Gao's arrest came after an Interpol "red alert" was triggered when he tried to cross the border from mainland China to Hong Kong.

The Interpol warrant stated Gao was wanted by Rotorua District Court on charges of theft and money laundering.

The border crossing where he was arrested lay within Hong Kong's northern frontier closed area, a buffer zone set up by the Hong Kong Government to prevent illegal immigrants from mainland China.

Gao appeared before a committal judge at the Eastern Magistrates Court in Sai Wan in late September and was refused bail.

He was remanded in custody to appear in court again on October 28.

He arrived in New Zealand in the custody of two detectives in December, 2011.

Gao was released on bail until sentencing on August 24 in the Rotorua District Court.

Hurring spent 22 months in China before she was arrested in February after travelling back to Auckland to obtain a passport for her daughter, Leena.

She was last month found guilty by a Rotorua District Court jury on 30 charges of theft, attempting to dishonestly use a bank card, and international money laundering.

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Hurring was bailed to an Auckland address and will be sentenced on August 24.

Judge Phillip Cooper asked for a home detention appendix to be prepared for sentencing but gave no assurance Hurring would not be jailed.

The maximum penalty for the charges is seven years' imprisonment.

Hurring faced 28 theft and bank card charges relating to her using Gao's ASB Eftpos card and Pin to access his personal account and withdraw $8000 cash, as well as pay for accommodation, clothing, car-parking and food during a six- day stay in Auckland after Gao flew to Hong Kong in April 2009.

Two money-laundering charges related to Hurring opening a player's account, and subsequent VIP account, at a Macau casino, using HK$1.5m (NZ$255,000) allegedly deposited by Gao into a Wynn's Casino account using remittance companies in Auckland and an account in Hong Kong.

Hurring was found to be guilty of helping Gao conceal the stolen Westpac millions by opening the gambling account.

Hurring used HK$101,000 worth of gambling chips to play baccarat, leaving around HK$1.4m to vanish without trace, a prosecution witness said.

When arrested in 2011 Hurring said she only became aware of the Westpac error when she saw a news item while staying with relatives in China.

Gao had acted "like a dick" when he discovered that his overdraft account for his ailing service station contained "lots of zeros", but Hurring maintained she had no knowledge of the $10m involved.

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said Hurring knew "full well" the money had been mistakenly deposited, and the withdrawals she made using Gao's ATM card were of money stolen from Westpac.

- Auckland Now

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