The global economic meltdown could have its upside, as a New Zealand couple seems to be trying to prove.
Bankrupt businessman Hui Gao and his girlfriend Kara Young, whose bank accidentally handed them a $6.1-million credit line, have managed to flee the country with more than a third of the cash, Westpac Bank said yesterday. An international hunt is on for the couple, who police believe have fled to Hong Kong and perhaps onward to China or South Korea.
An apparent slip of the finger by a worker at a bank in New Zealand changed Gao's overdraft limit from $61,000 to $6.1 million. A day or two after discovering the bank's mistake, Gao and Young withdrew as much of that money as they could, locked the doors of their failed petrol station in the small tourist town of Rotorua, and fled the country.
The couple are reportedly accompanied by Young's daughter Leena and sister, Aroha. Police revealed the runaways headed to Hong Kong after abandoning their car at Auckland Airport. On Friday, a New Zealand woman told a TV channel that Kara Yang was her daughter.
Sue Hurring said that while the situation was "stupid, bizarre," her daughter was essentially honest. "She has never pinched a thing in her life - probably as a little girl, yes - but she is so honest, so honest," she told the TV network. She added that she would like to ''wring his (Gao's) blimmin' neck''.
Hurring, a hairdresser in the South Island town of Blenheim, pleaded that her daughter should stop running. "Just come home now; it will be OK," she told the TV network.
Westpac Bank said in a statement Friday that the couple had a credit limit of NZ$100,000 ($61,000). In formalising the couple's limit for their ailing gas station the bank accidentally opened a line of credit for $6.1 million, the statement said. Initial details from the bank indicated that money had actually been deposited into their account.
The account holder then tried to transfer about $4 million out of the account, but the bank was able recover $1.7 million, it said. The statement did not specify how it got the money back. "Westpac is continuing to vigorously pursue the outstanding amount," the bank said.
Companies Office records list Hui Gao, generally called 'Leo', and another person as owners of the gas station, which police said filed for bankruptcy protection this month. The whereabouts of Gao's business partner are unknown.
"Enquiries to locate those individuals are continuing through Interpol in Hong Kong and official channels in Beijing," David Harvey, the detective senior sergeant in the case, said.
Westpac considered that what had happened was theft or fraud, through the use of a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage. However, it conceded that human error at the bank that made the couple accidental millionaires Westpac Bank's advertising slogan is 'Making the most of life'.