Student in court for hiding '$1.3m of bank's $4.6m error transfer'

Christine Lee Jiaxin was arrested while trying to fly to Malaysia on an emergency passport.
Christine Lee Jiaxin was arrested while trying to fly to Malaysia on an emergency passport.PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Malaysian accused of hiding funds in private Aussie accounts and splurging the rest

SYDNEY • A 21-year-old student accused of spending A$4.6 million (S$4.62 million) mistakenly given to her by a bank reportedly hid A$1.3 million of the money by making regular transfers into private bank accounts, and spent the rest living it up.

Malaysian Christine Lee Jiaxin is believed to have transferred about A$5,000 a day into secret bank accounts across Australia, the Daily Telegraph Australia reported.

Citing the police, the report said that Lee sent about A$33,000 a week over a nine-month period, beginning in 2014, to bank accounts with no connection to Westpac Bank.

 
 

The bank had given Lee an unlimited overdraft on her account due to a processing error, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The alleged transfers made by Lee, who was arrested on Wednesday trying to fly to Malaysia on an emergency passport, were small enough to avoid the suspicion of banking officials, the Daily Telegraph said.

Citing the police, the Daily Telegraph Australia report said that Lee sent about A$33,000 a week over a nine-month period, beginning in 2014, to bank accounts with no connection to Westpac Bank.The bank had given Lee an unlimited overdraft on her account due to a processing error.

While the overdraft - normally an unsecured loan up to an agreed limit - facility was given to Lee in 2012, she began to withdraw from the account only in 2014, media reports said.

By last year, she had taken A$4,653,333.02, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Besides the A$1.3 million cash transfer, the rest - some A$3.3 million - was spent on luxury handbags and other goods, and renting a A$3,120-a-month apartment with a panoramic view of the Sydney Harbour, the report said.

Lee, a chemical engineering student who has been living in Australia for the past five years, was released on A$1,000 bail on Friday after being charged with fraud.

Her boyfriend Vincent King, also a student from Malaysia, paid the bail. He claimed he had "no idea" about his girlfriend's windfall and that he had never seen her make any extravagant purchase.

Lee's mother, who appeared in court on Friday with Mr King, did not speak to reporters.

After her release by the police, Lee was taken into custody by immigration officers and transferred to a detention centre in Sydney's western suburbs, the Daily Mail Australia reported.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection would not comment on Lee's visa status, the report said.

Beneath Lee's luxurious apartment in the north-western Sydney suburb of Rhodes is a salon she frequented.

Her hairdresser was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying she was "a nice girl but she didn't talk too much".

Prosecutor Marc Turner was cited in a report by news.com.au that an investigation had begun in 2012.

The bank and police had tried to speak to Lee about the money then, but she did not return e-mail or phone calls.

It took until March this year for a warrant to be issued for her arrest.

Within weeks, she applied for a passport, Mr Turner said.

Westpac has so far recovered only A$1 million, media reports said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Student in court for hiding '$1.3m of bank's $4.6m error transfer''. Print Edition | Subscribe