‘Accidental Millionaire’ Pleads Guilty to Theft
By Madison Park
(CNN) — A New Zealand gas station owner who became an overnight millionaire after a banking error, and later an international fugitive, has pleaded guilty to seven counts of theft.
Nicknamed the “accidental millionaire,” Hui “Leo” Gao made headlines three years ago after he and his girlfriend fled the country when he accidentally received access to $10 million New Zealand dollars (U.S.$7 million).
He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 24.
Gao and his girlfriend withdrew $6.8 million and transferred them to overeseas accounts in Hong Kong, China and the Wynn casino in Macau, according to court documents.
Gao has not made any statements to the New Zealand Police.
His journey from a BP service station owner to a runaway millionaire began in 2009.
In April of that year, Gao applied for overdraft financing for the gas station he co-owned with his mother in Rotorua, New Zealand, according to court records.
The bank, Westpac approved his application with a $100,000 limit. But a clerical error by the bank’s employee placed the limit as $10 million — 100 times the intended amount.
The next day, Gao discovered the error in his bank account and told his girlfriend, Kara Hurring that he was “f—ing rich” and had millions of dollars, according to court documents.
After transferring money to overseas accounts in the names of his mother, his girlfriend and himself, Gao fled to Hong Kong in April 2009. Hurring joined him there in May.
By May 4, the bank became aware of the error and alerted authorities. A global manhunt, which included Interpol, focused on finding the accidental millionaires.
After two and a half years on the run, Gao was arrested in Hong Kong in September 2011, and extradited to New Zealand in December.
Hurring returned to the country voluntarily in February 2011. She has been found guilty of 28 counts of theft and two counts of money laundering, court records show.
She denied knowing where the money came from, reported TVNZ, CNN’s affiliate.
Westpac, the Australian bank, recovered about $2.9 million from the couple’s New Zealand accounts, but has yet to recoup the remaining $3.8 million. Reparations totaling that amount are sought by Westpac, according to court documents.
The bank had no comment.