How Christine Jia Xin Lee was able to covertly take advantage of Westpac’s errors in which she masterminded alibis and stealth redirecting of funds.
Christine Jia Xin Lee the Malaysian exchange student who declined to notify Aussie bank, Westpac that they had accidentally downloaded $4.6 million ($3.3m USD) into her overdraft banking has told that she believed the sum to have originated from her parents.
Upon receiving the funds in her bank in 2012, Christine Jia Xin Lee went about splurging on an upgraded lifestyle, moving into a high grade apartment with views of Sydney Harbor, splurging on designer handbags along with setting up bank accounts where she was withdrawing sums of money into.
At the root cause, Westpac had unwittingly and unbeknownst to them until three years later had extended the student an unlimited overdraft account which the student unscrupulously took advantage of.
By 2013, an alleged fraud victim claimed money had been fraudulently paid into Ms Lee’s bank account.
Following protocol, Westpac put Lee’s account into ‘PCO Status’ freezing transactions, and into ‘Manager 321 Status’, which meant the account was no longer monitored by the branch where the account was first opened.
Yet a week later an investigation deemed the transaction legitimate and the PCO Status was removed.
However the Manager 321 Status wasn’t removed by mistake, meaning the branch where Lee had originally opened her account wasn’t monitoring the account.
This meant it was possible for Christine Jia Xin Lee to make endless withdrawals without being dishonored or alerting the bank to her overdrafts.
By the time the bank had figured out what the student was doing, Lee’s bank balance was in debit $4,655,876.02.
It wasn’t until the Sydney based foreign exchange student’s account was frozen in April of 2015 that the 21 year old student must have understood that the bank had come round and realized in all likelihood it had erroneously deposited the vast sum in the 21 year old’s banking account.
Yet it wasn’t when shortly there after when Christine Jia Xin Lee received a call from Westpac’s senior manager of group investigations, Matt Tregoning, that the extent of what many believe to be young woman’s deceit was revealed.
Asked why she had overdrawn her account by $4.6 million, a report via the sydneymorninherald tells of the student saying she thought her wealthy parents in Malaysia were putting the money in her account.
‘I bought clothes, shoes, lots of handbags … They are in my unit at Rhodes,’ she said, adding that she had only $4000 cash left.
‘My mother is coming over to visit me in June and will give the bank a cheque,’ she said. ‘I have [told my parents about it] and they are not very happy with me.’
More than a year later, the chemical engineering student, who was in Australia on a student visa, was arrested at Sydney Airport as she tried to board a flight to Malaysia using an emergency-issue passport.
On May 5, the student was charged with dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime.
But the case has been in court since April 2015, when Westpac went to the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Court to declare Ms Lee bankrupt.
Court documents obtained obtained by Fairfax Media have revealed more details about the case.
Ms Lee opened the account one month shy of her 18th birthday in 2012 and received regular deposits from her parents while she studied at the University of Sydney.
Bank statements tendered in court show her first overdraft was on July 22, 2014, when a monthly rent payment of $3454 put the account into debit.
She quickly topped it back up but, when two more rent payments went through, she stopped putting the account back into credit and started transferring small, then large, sums to a PayPal account. The regular deposits from her parents soon stopped.
Over seven months, about $4.5million was transferred to her PayPal account. About half of that was forwarded to two Commonwealth Bank accounts and used to shop at Sydney boutiques, sometimes spending over $300,000 in a day. Items the student bought –included mostly handbags, clothes, sunglasses, jewellery, shoes and mobile phones, with one single day of transactions at a Christian Dior Shop amounting to no less than $220,000.
It wasn’t until transactions on April 7, eventually triggered an alert to Westpac’s Product Risk unit, where it was revealed Christine Jia Xin Lee had transferred $1.15 million to her PayPal account in 14 transactions over one day. Westpac froze the account and contacted Ms Lee. When asked why she thought she had access to that much money, she said: ‘My parents give me lots of money.’
Westpac obtained court orders last year to seize all her assets, declare her bankrupt and take her passport, which the student said she couldn’t find.
She was put on the AFP’s Airport Watch List following a $5814.90 purchase at Cathay Pacific Sydney Airport on April 2, 2015.
Yet it wasn’t until the student stopped showing up at court or answering calls, that police issued a warrant for Lee’s arrest on March 6, 2016.
Nevertheless a magistrate has indicated that criminal charges may be difficult to prove, given the bank provided her with the credit.
Westpac have argued that the student had signed terms and conditions stating she wouldn’t overdraw her account. They were able to get PayPal to return the $1.15 million transferred on April 7 but the rest remains outstanding.
An initial search of Christine Jia Xin Lee’s apartment on May 20, 2015 led to solicitors coming across a treasure trove of items that the student had bought, including scores of shopping bags, shoe boxes, designer handbags, scarves, shoes along with jewelry scattered all over the floor and the furniture.
Photos tendered in the Supreme Court show numerous diamond necklaces, earrings and rings, plus several photos of Ms Lee flaunting her goods.
By February, she had fled the Rider Boulevard apartment. By the time she was arrested in May, her boyfriend could only offer $1000 surety.