Ten million reasons why I’m smiling today.

May 22, 2009

I don’t know what’s leading off your evening news, but here in New Zealand we’re all abuzz about a bank’s $10 million mistake.

This situation might be resolved by the time you read this, but these are the basic facts: a gas station owner in Rotorua applied for a $10,000 overdraft from his bank to help him and his business partner survive a bit longer in the current recession. Somehow, when the money was transferred, the bank employee must have pressed a bit too hard on the zero key because $10,000 suddenly became $10 million.

What would you do if your bank account was suddenly fattened by money you knew had no reason to be there and was not your property?

In the case of these two men, they chose to disappear from the country, along with, reportedly, $6 million of that cash.

Interestingly enough, one fellow did not bother to take along his girlfriend, who had, according to the news, been working at the gas station for free just to help out.

I’m guessing he is now cut off for life.

I’m guessing, with his $3 million share of the pot, he doesn’t much care.

The two men, now being eagerly sought by various grumpy authority figures, are Asian. I only bring this up because it means they can easily blend into any one of several heavily-populated countries — preferably one without an extradition treaty with New Zealand — and not raise any eyebrows. Well, except for the fact that, while their neighbours own one goat apiece, they would own 10,000 goats.

So, again, what would you do with such an unexpected windfall? Hint: The correct answer is “Give it all back.”

But, just for the sake of argument, what if, like these two gentlemen, you decided it was payback time for the banking system? What if you had cursed for years about how banks plead poverty whenever they raise their fees by a dollar every time you blink, and then turn around and trumpet a year-end profit of billions?

Wouldn’t you feel — just a teensy-weensy bit — that this banking error was somehow karmic? That absconding with the better part of $10 million, obtained without resorting to wearing your wife’s pantyhose over your head or taking the risk of reprising any scene from Dog Day Afternoon, was simply a long-overdue payback for every time Big Business took you up the bum?

For the sake of argument, how would you go about accomplishing such a feat? This, more than any other detail, is the background I’d like to know. They were, after all, managing a gas station, for chrissakes, one that was sinking into oblivion. We’re not talking rocket scientists here. They pump gas not repair the Hubble telescope.

How did they know to get away with this? Could you do it?

Obviously, the clock would be ticking on their operation. At some point, the bank manager was bound to wander into the vault, notice an empty space on one of  shelves where $10 million  had once resided, and proceed to get very agitated.

I’m guessing this is where the Internet would come in handy. Maybe you’d start with about.com and ask how one goes about transferring large sums of money from your bank account to a bank in another country. Because — and, again I’m guessing here — you don’t just stuff that kind of cash into your shorts and walk onto an airplane. Ideally, as I mentioned above, that destination country doesn’t bother wasting its resources rounding up miscreants who’ve been bad boys in New Zealand.

Once you’ve found that country and arranged to transfer the money (and, somehow $4 million fell out of the virtual sack during said transaction), you’d need to hope your passport was current, purchase a ticket and start packing, all without raising the suspicions of, say, your girlfriend.

Those tasks almost sound too daunting to take on. But hard work does have its own rewards, in this case six million rewards. These guys have shown a clever streak and, simply from a logistics point-of-view, I hope their little adventure lasts awhile longer. At least until they’ve spent millions on wine, women and gambling, and then wasted whatever was left over.

I actually encountered a similar situation years ago. This was the ’70s, mind you, before ATMs, before the Internet, when Canadian banks were open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. on Fridays. Arrive at 6:01 and you faced a cashless weekend.

It was only a quick perusal of my printed bank statement that alerted me to the fact I seemed to have an extra thousand dollars in my account. Being anal retentive organized, I knew that had to be a mistake. When I finally made it to the front of the queue and stated my situation to the teller (remember those?), she perused some of the bank’s papers and then proceeded to x out the deposit notice on my statement with an exaggerated flourish.

No “oops.” No apology. No explanation. No indication of gratitude for pointing out the error. The bank simply took the money back and sent me out the door, cavalier bastards that they are.

So, would I have taken the $10 million and run? Actually, I just might have, if only for the challenge. Talk about your amazing race.

On a related note, the second item on the news was how the four major New Zealand power companies, having overcharged their customers to the tune of $4.3 billion over the past six years, will not have to pay any of that back.

Let me get this straight. Rip off a bank: bad. Rip off a widow with 30 handicapped children: OK.

I guess it all depends on who’s getting screwed. I’ll just be over here, bent over my power bill. And biting my pillow.

UPDATE: This above blog entry was based on information contained in a May 22 story on the msn.nzherald.co.nz website. A followup story posted today (May 23 in New Zealand) contains more details. The bank in question (Westpac) is how claiming the main suspect in this incident, Leo Gao, only managed to spirit $3.8 million — of the original $10 million — out of the country. And, while this story says Gao is now in Hong Kong, last night’s TV news stated he has fled to China.

No word on the whereabouts of Gao’s business partner from the gas station, but now comes news that Gao’s mother, brother, girlfriend and her daughter have also disappeared.

It appears Mr. Gao opted to take along extra baggage after all.

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2 Responses to “Ten million reasons why I’m smiling today.”

  1. Bananasu7k said

    ok, so they took the money, it will all work itself out in the end. By the way, just because the

  2. Bananasu7k said

    excuse me, I was cut off……Just because they work in a gas station, doesn’t mean they they are stupid people. Lots of brilliant, inventive and creative, enthusiastic people work in gas station.

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