4:00AM Sunday May 24, 2009
By David Fisher
The New Zealand Herald
One of the fugitives sought over Westpac's missing millions has told friends she is drinking Chinese beer, enjoying the heat of Asia - and planning on returning to New Zealand.
Aroha Hurring, 22, has charted her and the fugitives' progress from New Zealand to Hong Kong, Macau and into mainland China on her Facebook page.
On China, she says: "It's crazy. The only thing I hate is that they look at me funny."
It is five days since it emerged Rotorua couple Leo Gao and Kara Yang-Hurring skipped the country after a Westpac staff member accidentally allowed a $10 million overdraft on their bank account, on or about May 5.
The bank spotted the error after $6.7m was withdrawn. They were only able to claw back less than half, leaving Gao with $3.8m.
A spokeswoman for Police National Headquarters said yesterday there were no developments in the investigation, which had traced "two individuals of interest" to Hong Kong.
Westpac has sought court orders that would eventually give it power over the business owners' assets if the money was not returned.
The couple's Rotorua BP service station went into receivership on May 8. By then they had already left the city, although it wasn't until 12 days later that it became known police were investigating the disappearance of the family - and the money.
Gao and Yang-Hurring, along with her seven-year-old daughter Leena, have been missing since. Gao's mother has also disappeared, along with his business partner Huan Di Zhang and Yang-Hurring's sister Aroha Hurring.
Yesterday, the Herald on Sunday learned Aroha did not leave New Zealand until after the others had already skipped the country.
A friend has been monitoring her Facebook page which carried the message: "Aroha Hurring is having a Tsingtao beer. It's 30 degrees plus - the heat is good though."
Just days before, Aroha was on the West Coast of the South Island, where overnight temperatures had dropped to zero.
She moved there from Otago about three years before with boyfriend Jesse Fenton, but had been behaving erratically since the couple separated just over a month ago.
Her trip from New Zealand into Asia began with a phone call, said the friend, who did not want to be named.
"She told me her sister had rung her from China and she was thinking of going over.
"She wanted to know where she was ringing from. She had the country area code so I Googled it."
The number was 00853 - the international code for Macau.
Like Hong Kong, Macau is a "special administrative district" of China allowing activities banned elsewhere. Among those are gambling - Macau is renowned as the Las Vegas of Asia.
Although frustrated by the lack of a passport and money to leave New Zealand, Aroha told a few friends she was "heading to China".
Then she was gone - and it was just over a week before the news of the missing money broke.
Since arriving, Aroha has updated family through her sister Chloe's Facebook page.
She writes about being in Hong Kong then crossing the border to China. She posted the update about China on Wednesday - the day police revealed they were hunting the missing money. It does not mention whether she is with her sister, Kara Yang-Hurring, or with Gao.
"I wish you were here," she wrote to her sister. "It's [a] bit weirder here in China. You have to be more aware...Jewlery, they snatch off you. But Hong Kong is richer. Got vidz [videos] of Ferarri and the boy racer cars."
Aroha also wrote about how impressed she was with the "bling" on the cars, including diamantes adorning the rear wipers. "Got vid of them too. Got heaps of videos of the buildings. You wouldn't believe at night it light up hard out. And you're allowed two smoke inside. I'm have one now while writing this to you.
"I'll keep in touch. Hard out till I get back. Love ya heapz!"
Friends have been writing messages of support.
But a close friend told the Herald on Sunday: "It didn't really seem like something she would do.
"She's obviously over there with them. I knew she was going - she told quite a few friends. We thought they were full of ."
The friend said there were fears the fugitives could be caught in China, a country notoriously harsh for prison inmates. The concerns were greatest for Leena.
He said the news would have been particularly hard on Kara and Aroha's mother Suzanne Hurring, a strong figure in a close family of four girls.
She has had one phone call from Kara since her daughters vanished but hung up because she "knew what she had done".
Last night, Suzanne said she had not heard from either daughter since. She did not know where they were and did not want to speculate. "We [the family] are in the middle of all of this and we just want to chill out."
Gao's brother Carter also came forward last night to say he had nothing to do with the missing money. Carter had worked with his brother at the Rotorua BP, and shared a home with their mother and Kara Yang-Hurring. "I wanted to stay here. I'm here. If I was involved, I'm not here."
The only staff member at the closed BP station has been left without a job, and is owed $2000 in holiday pay. Shybu Antony said he was given no warning the station was about to go into receivership, although he knew the business was struggling.
The last time he spoke to Gao was on the morning of May 8. Gao hadn't been at work since April 24, and Antony was told he was on holiday in the South Island.
He phoned his boss to check nothing was wrong. "He said: 'Nothing. I'm coming back in two days' and hung up."
Later that day a detective came to the station and showed Antony a picture of Kara, asking if he knew her whereabouts.
That night, the receiver rang to tell him he had lost his job.
Helaine Aim, who owns a neighbouring takeaway and was friendly with Kara, was shocked her friend could be on the run. "I just can't believe she would do that with her daughter. She was a good mum."
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: HEATHER MCCRACKEN and ANNA LEASK
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