Friends say Leo Gao always dreamed of owning a fish-and-chips shop, and someday living the good life.
But someday came sooner than expected, courtesy of a New Zealand bank error that gave him a $6.1 million line of credit, instead of the $61,000 limit for which he'd applied.
Now, the Korean national and his girlfriend, Cara Young, a New Zealander -- who together ran a gas station in rural Rotorua -- are the focus of an international manhunt after Gao withdrew an estimated $4 million and, together with Young, hit the road.
The young couple, who are in their mid-twenties, told friends they were going on holiday. Their car was found abandoned at Auckland airport and the police believe they have fled to China. Interpol and New Zealand police are focusing their search on Beijing and Hong Kong.
Young's four-year-old daughter, Lena, and Gao's mother and siblings who lived with him in a house near the service station, BP Barnetts, also have disappeared, according to the couple's friends.
Gao always "dreamt of getting rich," a neighbor, Chevi Lambert, told The Times of London.
"He talked to me about his dreams and ventures," Lambert said. "His one big dream was to make money. He bought a fish and chip shop next door to the garage and wanted to make it into a Chinese fish and chip shop. But he didn't do anything about it," Lambert told The Times of London.
"It just sat there empty and after about six months he sold it for less than he bought it for.
"That was around the time when BP started going downhill. He lost motivation; the pressure of working those those long hours left him really stressed," she told The Times of London.
"At the same time he and Cara were having a lot of problems," she added. "They split up about a month ago but they were trying to work things out."
Young's mother, Suzanne Hurring, told local TV news that she could not believe her daughter had stolen the money, describing her as "beautiful and honest."
"This was the crazy thing, she has never pinched a thing in her life. She is so honest," she said.
She would like to "wring (Mr Gao's) blimmin' neck," she added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.