A chemical engineering student who was alleged to have spent A$4.6 million (RM14 million) on luxury goods with an unlimited overdraft account her bank accidentally gave her has had all her charges dropped, Australian media reported on Friday.
- Bank mistakenly gave her unlimited overdraft
- Money withdrawn over 11-month period
- Splurged on branded handbags, jewellery, clothes, shoes
- Lived in luxury penthouse in Sydney
- Moved A$33,000 a week into private bank accounts
- Bank alerted when A$1.15m transferred over 14 transactions to PayPal account in one day
- Accused claimed she believed money transferred into her account by wealthy parents
- Arrested when trying to board a flight to Malaysia after getting an emergency Malaysian passport
- Charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception
- Charges dropped as “no deception” found
- Returned A$1m worth of items
Christine Jiaxin Lee was alleged to have splurged the money on designer goods from high-end brands, including Cartier, Chanel, Dior and Hermes.
The 21-year-old Malaysian who was studying at Sydney University allegedly bought branded handbags and jewellery, including diamond necklaces, earrings and rings, as well as clothes, shoes, mobile phones and even cushions a vacuum cleaner over 11 months.
In some instances, she allegedly spent more than A$300,000 (RM928,449) in just one day.
Apparently, she was also living in a luxury penthouse in the city.
Prosecutors dropped charges against the student in light of a similar case involving a man charged with fraud for withdrawing A$2.1 million (RM6.4 million) from ATMs, which was thrown out of court.
Lee’s lawyer Hugo Aston said the charges were dropped as the government found there was “no deception” on his client’s part for the bank’s mistake.
He added that Lee would be moving back to Malaysia following the outcome of the case.
“She is happy it is behind her, and to move on with her life,” Aston said. “It is obviously clear the bank should adopt better policies.”
Over seven months, Lee transferred about A$4.5 million to her PayPal account. Half of the amount was forwarded to two Commonwealth Bank accounts and used for shopping at Sydney boutiques.
The error was picked up by the Westpac bank in April 2015. An alert was triggered when Lee transferred A$1.15 million to her PayPal account over 14 transactions in one day.
After freezing her account upon realising the bank had accidentally given her an unlimited overdraft, Westpac’s senior manager of group investigations Matt Tregoning phoned her, demanding she explain where the missing millions were.The student claimed she believed the money had been transferred into her account by her parents, whom she said were wealthy.When she found out police were trying to contact her about the money, she was understood to have arranged for herself to be granted an emergency Malaysian passport.
However, she was detained in May 2015 at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport when she tried to board a flight to Malaysia.Senior banking officials of Westpac admitted they were forced to track down more than A$1.3 million (RM4 million) Lee allegedly hid in multiple private accounts.
She had reportedly moved A$33,000 a week into private accounts at banks not connected to Westpac – transfers that were small enough to have gone unnoticed among banking officials.A Westpac spokesman said: “Westpac has taken all possible steps to recover its funds, including taking civil action against Ms Lee.
“The criminal charges against Lee were a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and police, and we respect their decision.”
Last December, Lee was charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime at the Downing Centre Court in Sydney.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Lee returned some A$1 million worth of items in April 2016.
In May, the Supreme Court made orders allowing Westpac to seize any other assets to repay the remaining A$3.5 million.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that when solicitors entered Lee’s apartment to take anything she had bought with her accidental Westpac overdraft, it was a confronting scene.
Shopping bags, shoe boxes, handbags, jewellery, shoes and scarves were scattered all over the floor and the furniture.
Lee was forced to hand over more than 100 handbags, jewellery, mounds of clothes, shoes, sunglasses, scarves, cushions and a vacuum cleaner.
It was reported that Westpac was able to get PayPal to return A$1.15 million.
Soon after the discovery of the mistake, the bank had obtained a court order in April 2015 to declare Lee bankrupt.