A 47-year-old man has been released on police bail after a dramatic incident south of Kaitaia on Thursday that saw two Czech Republic nationals running for their lives.
Thirty-year-old Pavel Slapota and 27-year-old Jan Janoch survived their ordeal unscathed, and later in the day drove to Auckland while the rifle-wielding man who they said had forced them into their own van was undergoing questioning at the Kaitaia police station.
He was bailed to his home address that night, pending an appearance in the Kaitaia District Court tomorrow on two counts of assault, one of presenting a firearm and one of unlawful possession of a pistol. Further charges were being considered, acting Senior Sergeant Brian Swann said.
Police had seized a number of firearms and an unspecified quantity of ammunition from the man's home, he added, while the process of revoking his firearms licence had begun.
Senior Sergeant Swann said the two victims claimed to have been confronted by the alleged offender on Wednesday night, when they returned to the rural address south of Kaitaia where they were expecting to spend the night. It was not clear whether a firearm was involved at that point.
They spent the night hiding in bush, then early on Thursday morning began walking towards Kaitaia. The alleged offender, who police said was driving the victims' van, found them on State Highway 1 at around 6.45am.
"We believe he confronted them with a firearm [a rifle], which he loaded in their presence," Senior Sergeant Swann said. One of the men claimed to have been struck with the butt of the firearm at some point, but did not suffer any significant injury. The offender was also allegedly armed with a pistol.
The offender then forced the two men into the van and began driving south. Several members of the public had seen the incident but the victims' yells for assistance went unanswered.
"Their English isn't very good, but in any event it was sensible on their part not to intervene," he said.
The victims, described by Senior Sergeant Swann as very frightened, escaped when the driver alighted from the van momentarily, and began running south. Police found them south of Whangarei as they drove towards Auckland.
Information from the public enabled police to identify the suspect, and road blocks were set up on State Highway 1 both north and south of the area where he was found. The arrested man had not previously been known to police.
The tourists first came to attention when they were accused of stealing from a man who had been putting them up. They had been planning to leave for Auckland to buy a car, their host arranging some work for them with a friend to raise some money.
Their host became curious about how they were going to get to Auckland, however, as he knew that their van needed a new tyre. When he inspected the vehicle he found that a tyre he owned had been fitted to it.
He then discovered that property had been taken from a shed; when he returned to the van he found a good deal of that property, namely eight full 20-litre diesel containers, a car battery, strops, fishing gear, gas cookers, tools, and what police described as other miscellaneous items.
Spoken to by police via an interpreter, Slapota and Janoch appeared before the Kaitaia District Court on Wednesday, pleaded guilty to charges of theft, were convicted and each fined $250. Their passports were held by police in Kaitaia, but were to be returned to the pair in Auckland when they paid their fines there.