They say that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but sometimes that particular idiom isn’t easy to live by. Sometimes, when someone’s draped in fine jewelry and designer clothes, it’s hard not to assume things about their lifestyle.
People assumed quite a lot about Christine’s lifestyle thanks to the way she presented herself. What they didn’t know, was the criminal secret she was hiding and what it might eventually cost her…
Living the Life
Christine was the type of girl who, in recent months anyway, had really become a sort of fashion phenom lately around campus. She would go to class wearing Christian Louboutin heels, carrying brand name designer handbags, and even had a Moschino case on her smartphone. The Hermes Birkin bag she held was worth about $1,500.
In a Day…
It seemed unusual that a college student could spend so much on a single purse, but as far as her friends were concerned, she was being bankrolled by a pair of very wealthy parents. They must have had quite the personal fortune, because on one trip to a Christian Dior shop in Sydney, Christine spent over $220,000. Of course, Christine had a secret…
At only 21 years old, Christine was already way into her college career. A native of Malaysia, Christine had travelled to Australia to study Chemical Engineering at Sydney University. And while it was true that her family back home was supporting her, they certainly weren’t sending her hundreds of thousands to spend on high end merchandise.
Christine’s extravagant purchases were beginning to pile up and get noticed. How could they not? Her dorm room had become overstuffed with designer handbags, elegant clothes, expensive jewelry, the newest mobile phones, and a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner. The question remained though: how could she afford it all?
At first, she didn’t even realize anything was wrong. When the funds in her accounts seemed to extend a fair bit further than they had previously, she believed that her parents had been secretly helping her out by transferring more into her account surreptitiously. She didn’t bother to ask them. A few months later, when the money kept coming, she began to realize something was up…
Over the course of 11 months, Christine Jiaxin Lee went on a multimillion-dollar spending spree, the likes of which beggared belief. She bought Herme, Chanel, and Dior products of every kind. If it had a name brand on the front of it, Christine bought it. In the end, she spent a whopping 4.6 million dollars of someone else’s money.
Bank Error in Your Favor
What had actually happened was that Christine’s bank had accidentally given her a bit of an extension on their overdraft limit: an unlimited extension. For nearly a year, the college student ran roughshod over the bank error, buying everything she could and hoping that they might not notice.
Of course, no good thing lasts forever, especially not when it costs a financial institution almost $5 million. The bank picked up the error in April of the following year, but by that time, quite enough damage had been done. One of the senior managers called Ms. Lee demanding to know what she’d done with the missing millions. He would not like her answer…
Time to Go
Christine refused to talk to the bank. Instead, as soon as she heard the jig was up, she made every attempt to get her butt back to Malaysia. She arranged for herself to be granted an emergency Malaysian passport, but before she could leave the country undetected, the bank had the police come looking for her.
They caught up with Ms. Lee just in the nick of time too. She was arrested in May of 2015 at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, trying to board a flight to Malaysia. She had almost made it, but just wasn’t fast enough. To be fair…it must have been difficult with a bunch of designer bags packed into her suitcase. Now the officers had to assess the true extent of the damage…
While she was in custody and being questioned by investigating officers, police went to Christine’s home. There, they found an assortment of designer gear fit for a queen. They could tell it was all the real thing too, mainly because more than half the bags seized were accompanied by certificates of authenticity.
Big Fat Problem
Senior banking officials had the culprit in police custody and they were confident that she’d be dealt with properly, but now they had another problem. The story had hit the media airwaves and all they could do was confirm that the situation was in fact a “big, fat banking error.” As it turned out though, they did manage to recover some or the millions stolen by Ms. Lee…
Christine Lee was no fool, she wasn’t going to spend 4.6 million on shoes and bags, she actually had the foresight to transfer some of it into different private accounts. The bank found $1.3 million of it in these accounts, but not the rest. Now they had direct proof that she knew what was happening and willingly allowed it to continue.
Ms Lee arrived in court wearing ripped jeans, white canvas shoes, and a black singlet. Her wrist and ankle tattoos were visible and she had a pink, fluffy keychain attached to her light brown backpack. She was flaunting not only her guilt, but her flagrant disregard for the proceedings about to begin. Despite all this, the trial did not end as anyone expected…
Christine’s lawyer, Hugo Aston, spoke to the press prior to the court date that despite their absence at the proceedings, her family is very supportive of their daughter. He added that, “We feel confident our client will be acquitted…” and that “We are very much a united team.” It was a bold statement to make concerning the evidence against her.
The scurrilous student’s main defense was that there had been no deception at all. As far as she was concerned, her parents were giving her the money. In the end, the attorney for Westpac bank, decided to have the criminal charges dropped. This was merely so that a future civil suit could be secured. That wasn’t the only reason…
It wasn’t just that they thought they would have more luck in civil court either. Indeed, prosecutors dropped charges against the chemical engineering student because of a similar case. This one involved a man being charged with fraud for withdrawing $2.1 million from ATMs. His case was thrown out of court, so how could they win the case against Christine Lee?
In the meantime, while Westpac bank tries to figure out how to get their $4.6 million back, Christine Jiaxin Lee is moving back to Malaysia. Free of the criminal charges, she is happy to put this period of her life behind her and move on. It is not clear whether or not the police will be returning her confiscated items. There is one thing that’s crystal clear…
Based on the fact that the prosecution threw the charges out, it gives the whole thing the appearance that it was the bank’s fault this happened in the first place. It’s clear that the bank should adopt better policies when it comes to overdraft and especially when it comes to account monitoring.
After all, what if had been someone else and not Christine who’d overspent on her account? Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, there are some out there who believe that Ms. Lee was the target of some sort identity theft and that the bank is not following up because of a leak in security. What do you think?