Kiwi 'accidental millionaire' Kara Hurring charged over $NZ 246,500 theft

Updated: 11 Aug 2011

A Rotorua woman who fled to Hong Kong after $10 million was mistakenly deposited in her Chinese boyfriend's Westpac bank account is keen to head back overseas to be reunited with her eight-year-old daughter as soon as possible.

Kara Mary-Jo Hurring, 32, returned to New Zealand last year and was arrested in December on 32 charges of money-laundering and theft totalling about $6.8m.

The whereabouts of her daughter, Leena, are not known, though she is thought to be somewhere in China. Hurring's boyfriend, Leo Gao, a former Rotorua service station owner, is still
being hunted by police.

Hurring appeared at a pre-trial hearing in Rotorua District Court yesterday, where the charges against her were dramatically reduced.

She now faces revised charges of theft and money-laundering totalling only $246,500.

Her lawyer told the court that the original charges had been dropped because of insufficient evidence.

Those earlier charges related to allegations that Hurring and Gao transferred $6.782m of the wrongly deposited $10m to other accounts before leaving New Zealand separately for Hong Kong in April and May 2009. The banking error, caused when a teller added two extra zeroes to a $100,000 overdraft application, was discovered by Westpac on May 5.

The bank recovered about half of the money, leaving an outstanding sum of $3.872m.

Hurring spent 22 months on the run in China with Gao and Leena before returning to New Zealand.

The couple are alleged to have spent time in Macau.

Two of the new charges against Hurring are of international money-laundering to the value of more than HK$1.5m (NZ$230,800) while in Macau.

She also faces 26 counts of theft and two of attempting to use a document. The thefts are alleged to have been committed in Auckland and relate to amounts ranging from $14 to $1573.

Lawyer Simon Lance said Hurring would vigorously defend the new charges, and wanted to be reunited with her daughter.

Judge Chris McGuire said the new charges were a "pale echo" in monetary terms to the original indictments. He remanded Hurring on bail until October.

Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Loper said that, although the 32 original charges had been dropped, police considered the new charges to be just as serious.

The international money-laundering charges were significant and laying them had required approval from the Solicitor-General.

There was still work to be done in the police investigation, including the arrest of Gao on a charge of theft of $6.782m from Westpac, Mr Loper said.

The nature of the international investigation between New Zealand and Hong Kong had made it complex, but police were committed to make those responsible for the alleged theft accountable.

"This case has been treated seriously by police since the beginning. It was an active investigation leading up to Ms Hurring's arrest in December, and it remains very much so," he said.

"There is still a lot of work going on behind the scenes but, for obvious reasons, we are not in a position to be able to discuss that."

A Westpac spokesman said the bank would not comment as the investigation was in the hands of police.