It’s a scenario made for the movies: Struggling New Zealand small-business owner applies for a $100,000 overdraft from his bank to finance the gas station he operates with his mother. 32-year-old Hui “Leo” Gao wakes up the next day to discover $10 million has been magically deposited into his account.
Unfortunately, not everyone ends up with as tidy and happy an ending as Preston from Blank Check. Gao didn’t have any goonlike thugs willing to step into his role and accept the blame. Instead, he has been sentenced to five years in prison for running away with the millions that accidentally appeared in his Westpac bank account in April 2009, ABC Melbourne reports.
Gao, now called the “runaway millionaire,” fled New Zealand to Hong Kong with his then girlfriend Kara Hurring after their surprise wealth infusion. Gao transferred $6.78 million across various personal accounts in his name and his parents’, while some cash was laundered through companies in China, the Rotorua (New Zealand) Daily Post reports.
After several years on the run — much of which time was filled with paranoia, Gao told the Daily Post — the two decided to face the consequences of giving into what Gao’s lawyer Ron Mansfield called “a very big temptation.”
Hurring was caught while entering New Zealand to renew her daughter’s passport; she was charged in May with 28 counts of theft and two counts of money laundering. She was sentenced to just nine months of home detention, likely because of her secondary involvement with the crimes and also so she could take care of her two children, one of whom she had with Gao.
Gao was arrested in Hong Kong last September after trying to cross into mainland China. He pleaded guilty to seven charges of theft and now faces nearly five years in prison. Gao’s sentence was apparently lessened because his crime was ruled as “opportunistic” rather than premeditated and because he had already served jail time for the crimes in Hong Kong and Auckland.
Westpac has been able to recover a portion of the money, but $3.8 million is still unaccounted for, and Gao is unwilling to say where it went, the Daily Post reports.
“A lot of people say, ‘You’re lucky, like winning the lottery,’ ” Gao told the Daily Post. “I say, ‘Nothing worse could happen to you.’ ”
Indeed. There’s quite a difference between thinking you’re a good enough person to return money that isn’t yours when life is business as usual and living up to it when you actually see $10 million in your bank account. We should all be so lucky to never face that choice.
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