25 May 2009

Couple in bank blunder urged to return to NZ

11:46 pm on 25 May 2009

Police on Monday interviewed a relative of a New Zealand couple who fled to Hong Kong after a bank gave them a $10 million overdraft by mistake.

Rotorua service station owners Leo Gao and Kara Mary Jo Hurring, also known as Kara Yang, applied for a $100,000 limit but instead had a $10 million limit placed on their Westpac account.

The couple has been on the run since $6.7 million was withdrawn. Westpac says it is still owed $3.8 million.

Police are urging the couple to return to New Zealand before a substantial amount of the money is spent and will request help from the Chinese government to locate them.

A family member who accompanied the couple returned to Auckland on Monday and was spoken to by police.

Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey says the family member is also urging Mr Gao, 29, and Ms Hurring, 30, to return.

Mr Harvey says it is not yet clear if the family member will face charges.

Meanwhile, the Government is considering a law change that might have stopped the incident in its tracks.

New Zealand is obliged to tighten controls on money laundering and terrorist financing and a clause in a draft bill requires banks to scrutinise unusually large transactions.

Bank defends staff over blunder

Westpac is defending the staff members involved in accidentally the $10 million overdraft limit.

Spokesperson Craig Dowling told Morning Report the bank is disappointed that attention is being focused on individuals who may have made what was effectively a keying error.

"The reality is that a simple error on its own shouldn't have led to this outcome, so checks are also part of the process that the bank's been looking at," he says.

Mr Dowling says it is clear there was a series of errors by several people, and the bank is accepting responsibility.

He says the ultimate fault lies with the people who took advantage of the mistake.