The accidental millionaire finally made to pay

Woman given £5m in bank error found guilty after international spending spree
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The Independent Online

It was the banking error that was too good to be true, but that did not stop a New Zealand woman from enjoying the fruits of the multi-million-pound bounty inadvertently credited to her partner's account.

Kara Hurring, 33, was dubbed the "accidental millionaire" after Westpac bank in Rotorua mistakenly extended her partner's overdraft facility. Instead of the £50,000 requested by Hui "Leo" Gao, who ran a struggling service station in the town, the bank gave him nearly £5m.

It took several days before the bank realised its error, but by then Hurring had gone on a shopping bonanza and more than half the money had been transferred to other accounts.

Police alleged she then flew to Hong Kong with her daughter and went on a gambling spree in Macao.

Mr Gao, later extradited from Hong Kong, has yet to face trial. But his wife was yesterday found guilty of 30 charges of theft, dishonesty and money laundering by a jury at the Rotorua District Court. The mother of two was on the run for two years before returning to New Zealand in February.

She told the court she did not know where the money had come from until she saw a news item while in China. Until then, she said, she was under the impression that her partner had won the lottery.

In a video interview with police played to the court, Hurring said Mr Gao had been very secretive ever since he checked his laptop one night in April 2009 and began "yahooing and yelling as if he was on another planet". She also claimed that Mr Gao had told customers at the service station where he worked that he had won the lottery.

But the prosecution claimed that Hurring had told her mother about the bank's mistaken generosity. Then she hit the shopping malls running to take advantage of Westpac's unexpected largesse.

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said the accused woman had used her partner's bank card to make purchases and withdraw money from cash machines in New Zealand.

He said she had also set up a "player" account at a Macao casino where £164,000 was deposited which could be converted into gambling chips or hotel expenses. Hurring was remanded on bail for sentencing on 24 August. She has been forbidden to leave the country.

Outside the court she admitted she was relieved that the case was over. "I can't wait to see my kids," she said.

But her lawyer, Simon Lance, denied she was a "runaway millionaire".

"Not one cent of Westpac money went into her bank account," he said. "She will be sentenced on a lesser basis than Mr Gao because the amounts of money that she's said to be involved in are obviously significantly less."

After the bank discovered its error, about half the money was recovered from New Zealand accounts.