New Zealand's 'accidental millionaire' in court

AP News
Posted: Dec 21, 2011 12:46 AM
New Zealand's 'accidental millionaire' in court

A New Zealand gas station owner suspected of withdrawing millions of dollars and going on the run after a bank error appeared in court on Wednesday after being extradited from Hong Kong.

Hui "Leo" Gao appeared in Manukau District Court charged with two counts of money laundering and 16 counts of theft involving $6.78 million from Westpac Bank.

Gao and his then-partner Kara Hurring disappeared in 2009, two days after they received a credit line worth 10 million New Zealand dollars ($7.6 million) _ 100 times their approved limit.

The pair, who at the time were running a gas station in the scenic New Zealand tourist destination of Rotorua, made international headlines and were dubbed the "Accidental Millionaires."

New Zealand police have said NZ$6.78 million was transferred out of the account, though the bank later recovered nearly half.

Gao appeared in court Wednesday, hours after his arrival back in the country on a flight from Hong Kong accompanied by New Zealand detectives. Hong Kong police arrested Gao in September as he tried to cross into the city from mainland China. In October, a Hong Kong court granted a request from New Zealand authorities for his extradition.

Local media reported Gao was remanded in custody to reappear in the Rotorua District Court on Friday.

Hurring, 32, returned voluntarily to New Zealand earlier this year to face theft charges, which she denies, and is due to stand trial in February.