New Zealand 'runaway millionaire' jailed for theft

A New Zealand man who fled to China after a bank mistakenly deposited millions of dollars into his account was jailed for four years and seven months Friday.

Hui "Leo" Gao and his then-partner Kara Hurring skipped the country when Westpac bank accidentally put NZ$10 million (US$8.1 million) into Gao's account in April 2009 after he requested a NZ$100,000 overdraft.

The error was discovered within days but by then Gao had transferred NZ$6.78 million into offshore bank accounts and the pair, dubbed the "runaway millionaires", had left the country.

Gao spent more than two years on the run before he was arrested at Interpol's request in September last year as he tried to enter Hong Kong from mainland China.

He was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court Friday after pleading guilty to seven charges of theft at an earlier hearing.

Hurring, who was convicted on lesser charges of money laundering, was sentenced to nine months home detention in the same court and ordered to repay almost NZ$12,000 she had obtained using Gao's credit card.

Hurring had a baby son to Gao while they were on the run but the pair broke up while they were fugitives.

She voluntarily returned to New Zealand in February last year and gave herself up.

The court was told that NZ$3.8 million of the money had still not been recovered and Gao had provided no explanation about what happened to it.

Judge Philip Cooper said Gao's offending was opportunistic, rather than pre-meditated, but the sentence reflected the fact that he deliberately moved the money offshore and avoided capture for as long as possible.

"You were arrested because you were located by Hong Kong authorities, not because you handed yourself in," he said.

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