Hui Gao, the man Interpol named “The Runaway Millionaire,” was sentenced to 54 months in prison Thursday for absconding with the $7.7 million USD his bank uploaded to his business account by mistake. Gao’s former partner, Kara Hurring , received nine months home detention for her part in the case.
The saga began on April 29, 2009 when Westpac Bank in Rotorua, New Zealand mistakenly uploaded $7.7 million instead of $77,000, to Gao’s gas station’s overdraft account. Gao, 32, then transferred the funds into other accounts before fleeing to Hong Kong to enjoy his ill gotten gains. Hurring, Gao’s former girlfriend, waited until May 3, 2009 before joining her lover in Hong Kong.
By the time the bank error was discovered on May 5, 2009, Gao, Hurring and the money were all long gone. The bank tried desperately to recover the missing millions in a 30 month long chase that led police all over the Far East. Gao was finally tracked down by Interpol and arrested trying to cross the border from mainland China to Hong Kong on September 30, 2011.
Kara Hurring, the runaway millionaire’s ex-girlfriend, returned voluntarily to New Zealand in February, 2011 after spending 22 months in Mainland China. In May of 2012, she was found guilty by a jury and convicted on 30 charges including theft, using a bank card for pecuniary advantage, and money laundering.
At the sentencing, Gao’s lawyer told the court that his client had given in to temptation, and Mr. Gao was sorry for his actions. His lawyer also informed the court that Gao was not able to pay reparations for the money he stole. Most of the missing money has yet to be recovered.
The judge in the case, Philip Cooper, acknowledged that the offense was opportunistic as opposed to pre-meditated. But the fact that Gao went to great effort to avoid capture after moving the money out of New Zealand weighed heavily against him. Judge Cooper said, “You were arrested because you were located by Hong Kong authorities, not because you handed yourself in.”
What would you do if millions of dollars suddenly appeared in your bank account. Would you call the bank and tell them about the error, or would you become another runaway millionaire?