Oddly Enough

Police hunt couple fleeing bank error

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand police have launched an international search for a couple who fled with millions of dollars after NZ$10 million (US$6.05 million) was accidentally deposited into their bank account.

Pedestrians walk past an electronic display board in front of a Westpac bank in Queen Street, downtown Auckland, March 27, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Marple

Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey of New Zealand Police said in a statement on Thursday that an investigation team was working with Westpac Bank on the case.

New Zealand’s news agency NZPA said the couple, who ran a gas station in the northern city of Rotorua, had applied to Westpac Bank for a NZ$10,000 overdraft but 1,000 times that amount was paid into their account in error.

“The individuals associated with this account are believed to have left New Zealand and police (are) working through Interpol to locate those individuals,” Harvey said in a statement.

“Westpac Bank has recovered some of the money which had been inappropriately withdrawn.”

He refused to say how much of the money had been recovered or give any other details. He would not comment on which country the couple may have fled to.

But local newspaper The Rotorua Review quoted a source saying that a police liaison officer was sent to China recently to search for the couple.

Westpac refused to confirm the amount of money missing but in a statement said the bank was “pursuing vigorous criminal and civil action to recover the sum of money stolen.”

Banking ombudsman Liz Brown told Rotorua’s The Daily Post newspaper that generally it was a criminal offence for people to spend money that was accidentally put into their bank account if they knew it did not belong to them.

In her 15 years as banking ombudsman she said she had been involved in 10 to 20 cases of this kind which were legally referred to as “payment by mistake.”

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Bill Tarrant