South Korean computer ‘geek’ bailed over alleged $360,000 theft from elderly Canberra woman

A South Korean visitor to Australia has been freed on bail despite concerns from ACT police that he will try to flee the country while facing 27 charges of fraud.

Byung Uk Cho, 27, was arrested last month by police at Sydney Airport for allegedly stealing more than $360,000 from an 89-year-old Canberra woman while fixing her computer.

Mr Cho, whose working holiday visa has now expired, had been under police investigation since March when the woman found suspicious transactions in her bank account.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Mr Cho today applied for bail for a second time in the ACT Magistrates Court, where his lawyer revealed his client had handed the money back to police.

“Last time my client applied for bail the court was concerned if released, he would put those funds beyond reach,” barrister Peter Berg told the court.

“Today my client has returned the full amount of money, by the way of a bank cheque to police.”

Magistrate James Lawton questioned how Mr Cho was pleading not guilty to all charges, since it was clear he had the missing money in his possession.

“What do I confer from the fact your client has just returned a large amount of money, coincidentally similar to the sum?” Mr Lawton asked Mr Berg.

But Mr Berg argued his client was given permission by the woman to invest the money and had not taken it without her consent.

“My client argues through friendship with victim he was going to invest for the woman and buy real estate investment in South Korea,” he told the court.

The prosecution argued that it made no sense for an elderly woman with no ties to South Korea to try and invest there with a man who came to fix her computer.

To that claim, Mr Berg responded that Mr Cho’s English was weak, and that there was a miscommunication with his alleged victim.

Mr Lawton replied: “Yet he was able to provide someone with advice on investments in Korea.”

Alleged thief granted bail with strict conditions

Documents tendered to the court detailed how in 2019 the alleged victim engaged a computer repair company called Geeks2u.

The prosecution alleged Mr Cho went to the woman’s home in Yarralumla, in Canberra’s inner south, and removed her computer, before money — largely left to her after the death of her husband — began leaking from the woman’s online bank account.

Mr Cho was arrested by police last month trying to board a flight back to South Korea.

During today’s bail hearing, the prosecutor argued Mr Cho was a flight risk because he had already tried once to leave the country.

The court also heard Mr Cho had been called for military service in South Korea, and if he did not comply he could be jailed.

“I note that the defendant had, by his own admission, had attempted to leave Australia to undergo mandatory national service,” prosecutor Isabella Coker said.

“The victim is 89, she is incredibly vulnerable, he is aware of where she lives, and the defendant took advantage of her age to commit these offences.

“There is no evidence that there is anything tying him to the ACT.”

In the end Mr Cho was granted bail on the conditions he report to police daily, remain in the ACT, does not go within 100 metres of an international departure point and does not apply for a new passport.

The case will return to court in February.

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