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'Accidental' millionaire's spending spree ends in prison

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Fri August 24, 2012
Hui
Hui "Leo" Gao went on the run with his girlfriend after discovering a banking error in April 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Zealand's 'accidental millionaire' jailed for bank account theft
  • Hui "Leo" Gao sentenced to four years, seven months after global manhunt
  • Gao's girlfriend Kara Hurring sentenced to nine months' home detention
  • Couple fled NZ after bank error gave Gao access to NZ$10 million

(CNN) -- A New Zealand gas station owner turned international fugitive has been sentenced to four years and seven months in prison after stealing millions of dollars accidentally deposited into his bank account.

Hui "Leo" Gao, dubbed the "accidental millionaire," sparked a global manhunt after fleeing New Zealand with his girlfriend Kara Hurring in April 2009.

Hurring was sentenced to nine months' home detention for her part in the heist, according to CNN affiliate TV NZ. The 33-year-old was also ordered to pay back $9,615 (NZ$11,830) at the rate of $60 (NZ$75) a week, the broadcaster said.

Gao's journey from the forecourt to fugitive began in April 2009 when Australian bank Westpac accidentally gave him access to $7 million (NZ$10 million).

Gao had applied for overdraft financing for the gas station he co-owned with his mother in Rotorua, New Zealand, court documents said.

The bank approved his application with a $100,000 limit, however while inputting the figure a bank employee made a clerical error and gave him access to 100 times the intended amount.

'Accidental millionaire' awaits trial

Gao discovered the error the next day and told his girlfriend, Kara Hurring that he was "f—ing rich" and had millions of dollars, court documents said.

In less than one month, the couple withdrew $6.8M from Gao's bank account and transferred it to accounts in Hong Kong and China.

In late April 2009, Gao fled to Hong Kong where he was joined a few days later by Hurring. Before leaving New Zealand, the couple had been living together in Rotorua with Hurring's six-year-old daughter, court documents showed.

In early May, the bank became aware of the error and alerted authorities who issued an Interpol alert for the missing couple.

Hurring spent almost two years on the run before returning to New Zealand in February 2011 to renew her daughter's passport, TV NZ reported. In May, she was found guilty of 28 counts of theft and two counts of money laundering, according to court records.

Gao was arrested in Hong Kong in September 2011 and extradited to New Zealand two months later. In June, he pleaded guilty to seven charges of theft.

Westpac, the Australian bank, recovered about $2.9M from the couple's New Zealand accounts, but has yet to recoup the remaining $3.8M. Crown Prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch told the court the bank was continuing to dedicate considerable resource to recovering the stolen money, TV NZ said.

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