Student Christine Jiaxin Lee let off for spending $4.6m after bank error.
The lawyer for a former Australian student who bought A$4.6 million worth of designer handbags and shoes following a banking error said she was “very relieved” all criminal charges against her had been dropped.
Christine Jia Xin Lee was charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime in May 2016, after she spent $4.6 million from her Westpac account over an 11-month period in 2014 and 2015.
The bank had accidentally given her an unlimited overdraft, and an alert was only triggered when she transferred $1.15 million to her PayPal account over 14 transactions in one day.
The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed the charges against Lee had been withdrawn on Monday.
The former Sydney University student’s lawyer, Hugo Aston, said she was happy to be able to get on with her life in Malaysia.
“She’s obviously very relieved that all this trauma is over for her,” he said.
Lee had spent vast amounts of money on designer goods from high-end brands including Hermes, Dior, Chanel and Cartier – in some instances, spending more than $300,000 in just one day.
She was arrested at Sydney Airport on May 4, 2016, as she was trying to board a flight to Malaysia.
But at her first court appearance the next day the magistrate cast doubt on the case, saying Lee may not have broken the law.
At the time, Lee claimed she thought her parents had been depositing large sums of money into her Westpac account.
Aston said this case showed the banks needed to be more careful with their account management systems.
“The bank would be aware that they’ve got to manage their policies better,” he said.
“Come this royal commission, they might be more aware of their mismanagement practices and take proper measures to make sure these things don’t happen again.”
In April 2016, Lee returned items including a Cartier bracelet and handbags from Dior and Hermes with a value of about $1 million, and in May that year the Supreme Court made orders allowing Westpac to seize any other assets to repay the remaining $4 million.
In a statement, the bank said it had taken “all possible steps” to recover the funds, including taking civil action.
“The criminal charges against Lee were a matter for the DPP and police, and we respect their decision.”
The case has echoes of one in NZ in 2009, when a couple fled Rotorua after Westpac mistakenly deposited $10 million instead of $100,000 into their overdraft account.
Hui ‘Leo’ Gao was handed a jail term of four years and seven months and his partner, Kara Hurring, received nine months’ home detention.
The couple – dubbed the runaway millionaires – were arrested after evading authorities for nearly two and half years while on the run in China.