December 16, 2019

Charges against Christine Lee for $4.6 million Westpac overdraft dropped

The lawyer for a former Sydney University student who bought $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The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed the charges against Ms Lee had been withdrawn on Monday.

Ms Lee'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.

Ms 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 Ms Lee may not have broken the law.

At the time, Ms Lee claimed she thought her parents had been depositing large sums of money into her Westpac account.

Mr Aston told Fairfax Media this case showed the banks needed to be more careful with their account management systems.

Ms Lee Purchased Handbags

Some of the hundreds of designer handbags seized from Christine Jia Xin Lee's unit in Rhodes.

"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, Ms 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 $3.5 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 Ms Lee were a matter for the DPP and police, and we respect their decision."


Hugo Aston

Barrister | Arbitrator | Mediator
Supreme Court of TAS + NSW
High Court of Australia
Family Court Arbitrator
Public Notary
Clarence Chambers
Level 21
133 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 8379 1874
Mob: 0448 807 075
Level 1
41 York Street
Launceston TAS 7250
Tel: (03) 6334 8634
Mob: 0448 807 075

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