The Australian government on Tuesday demanded that a Hong Kong company repay its royal mint HK$4.95 million, an amount remitted by mistake due to online identity fraud last May.
The Canberra-based Royal Australian Mint claimed in a writ filed at the city’s High Court that the identity of its CEO Ross MacDiarmid was stolen at the time to place orders via email for purchasing new mint machines and equipment from vendors in Hong Kong and Britain.
Those emails – sent to the acting chief financial officer – claimed MacDiarmid had authorised the order and said it should be completed as soon as possible for an inspection by the Australian treasury secretary and members of the Australian parliament on or before May 20 last year.
Following those instructions, the mint remitted US$820,350, or HK$6.37 million, in four instalments to Meijie Commodity Company in Hong Kong and a British vendor named Robert Llewellyn.
The identity fraud came to light a day after the final instalment was remitted on May 5 as the acting CFO asked the acting CEO about the inspection.
With the help of Australian federal police, the mint recovered US$133,540, or HK$1.04 million, from the British vendor, who actually owed the mint US$182,450, or HK$1.42 million.
The mint is now demanding Meijie Commodity Company repay the US$637,900, or HK$4.95 million, or, alternatively, that the court declare the company was only holding the sum in trust for the Australians. The mint also seeks interest plus costs for the present legal action.
“Since the funds were transferred to the Meijie bank account as a result of Royal Australian Mint’s mistake which was procured by a fraud, the defendant was unjustly enriched by the funds at the expense of the Royal Australian Mint,” the writ said. “The defendant knew it had no entitlement to the funds.”
Hong Kong police said Meijie Commodity Company had received the funds. But to the mint’s knowledge, they were frozen by HSBC last August.
Founded in 1965, the Royal Australian Mint is the sole supplier of the country’s circulating coins. It also produces circulating and collector coins for other countries, along with medals, medallions, tokens and seals for clients within and outside Australia.
In 2005, the mint became a prescribed agency within the treasury of the Australian government.