Malaysian cleared of charges over spending money that was not hers

Ms Lee claimed she believed the money was transferred by her parents. Bank officials say it was a banking error.
Ms Lee claimed she believed the money was transferred by her parents. Bank officials say it was a banking error.PHOTO: CHRISTINE JIAXIN LEE / FACEBOOK

SYDNEY • A student who was alleged to have spent A$4.6 million (S$4.7 million) on designer goods with an unlimited overdraft account her bank accidentally gave her has had all her charges dropped, Australian media reported yesterday.

Ms Christine Lee Jiaxin, a 21-year-old Malaysian resident studying at Sydney University, allegedly bought designer handbags, clothes, jewellery, mobile phones and a vacuum cleaner over 11 months.

Prosecutors dropped charges against the chemical engineering student after a similar case involving a man charged with fraud for withdrawing A$2.1 million from ATMs was thrown out of court, news portal news.com.au said.

Responding to The Straits Times' query, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed yesterday that the charges were withdrawn on Nov 27.

Ms Lee's lawyer, Mr Hugo Aston, told the Daily Telegraph his client would be moving back to Malaysia.

"She is happy it is behind her, and to move on with her life," he told the newspaper. "There was no deception... It is obviously clear the bank should adopt better policies."

The error was picked up by the Westpac bank in April 2015, and a senior manager phoned Ms Lee, demanding she explain where the missing millions were.

The student claimed she believed the money had been transferred into her account by her parents. 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 arrested in May 2015 at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport when she tried to board a flight to Malaysia.

Senior banking officials told the Daily Telegraph the bungle was a "big, fat banking error".

They admitted they were forced to track down more than A$1.3 million Ms Lee allegedly hid in multiple private accounts.

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 Ms Lee were a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and police, and we respect their decision."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysian cleared of charges over spending money that was not hers'. Print Edition | Subscribe