Police are searching for a couple who have taken off with up to ten million dollars, after it was mistakenly transferred into their account.
An Asian couple understood to have fled New Zealand after a banking error involving millions of dollars, may be in China.
A Rotorua Review source today confirmed that a police liaison officer was sent to China to search for the couple after $10 million was deposited into their bank account. It is understood that the sum of money involved is $6m, with $4m having already been recovered.
When asked by the Review whether he could confirm the China link, Detective Sergeant David Harvey said: "I'm not prepared to offer any comment at this stage."
The couple, who ran Rotorua service station BP Barnetts, are understood to have applied to Westpac Bank for a $10,000 overdraft and mistakenly had $10 million paid into their account.
Westpac media relations manager Craig Dowling would not comment on the specifics of the case due the police investigation and court actions requiring confidentiality.
"I can say that Westpac is pursuing vigorous criminal and civil action to recover a sum of money stolen," he said, adding that the incident had prompted a review of how it had occurred.
Mr Dowling said that both civil and criminal actions were being pursued.
Police had asked international police liaison organisation Interpol to help find the couple.
BP Barnetts closed its doors earlier this month after its operator, Heights Service Limited, went into receivership.
The service station, at the intersection of Otonga, Old Taupo and Devon roads, was owned by Huan Di Zhang and Hui Gao. The pair was listed at a West Harbour, Auckland address.
Rotorua's The Daily Post newspaper reported that the company owed money to creditors.
The creditors report, being prepared by Corporate Finance Limited, is not due until 19 July. Corporate Finance Limited would not comment on the matter.
Officer-in-charge Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey of Rotorua CIB was prepared only to say that an investigation had been launched into a substantial sum of money that had been "mistakenly advanced" from Westpac.
Police had received a complaint from Westpac relating to people living in Rotorua.
He refused to say how much money was involved.
Police were investigating because the Westpac bank considered what had happened was theft or fraud, through the use of a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage, Mr Harvey told Rotorua's Daily Post newspaper.
He confirmed some of the money mistakenly advanced had been withdrawn from the bank account but was not prepared to say how much money was involved.
He expected the investigation to "take some time".
Banking Ombudsman Liz Brown told The Daily Post that generally speaking it was a criminal offence for someone to spend money accidentally put into their bank account if they knew the money wasn't theirs.
In her 15 years as banking ombudsman she had been involved in 10 to 20 cases of this nature. They were legally referred to as "payment by mistake".
She was unable to recall how much money was involved in each case.
"There haven't been cases of millions of dollars but certainly ones where there have been several thousand dollars," she said.
Massey University banking lecturer Claire Matthews said the lucky recipients would probably not get away with it.
"They've taken funds that they're not entitled to, that are not theirs," she told Newstalk ZB.
"They've effectively, I guess, become thieves but it is only going to be a matter of time."
The business owners would be hard pressed to argue they honestly believed they were entitled to such a huge sum of money, she said.
Westpac said this morning court action had begun to recover the money but refused to comment further.
Raman Ramschod owns St Andrew's Superette in the same block of shops as Barnetts. He said he had regular dealings with them and had never had any problems.
"I had no problems with them - they seemed okay to me," he said. "He seemed a pleasant person and she was quite nice."
There was "definitely not" any indication that they or the store were in any difficulties, he said.
Rotorua Review and Stuff
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