Jewel bandits in court

By Andrew Koubaridis, NZPA

Two men accused of being part of an international robbery group which netted $770,000 worth of jewellery were remanded in custody when they appeared in Auckland District Court this morning.

Cesar Orlando Romero, 43, a native of Colombia, and Javier Espinosa Agreda, 26, whose country was not listed on charge sheets, appeared in Auckland District Court today via audio-visual link from Auckland Remand Prison.

Both face charges of being part of an organised criminal group conspiring to commit aggravated robbery. Romero is also charged with possession of a fake United States passport.

Their lawyer, Paul Tomlinson, did not make a bail application and they were remanded in custody until June 24.

Three women - Maria Teresa Martinez, 47, and two Colombian women who have yet to be named - also appeared today.

Two other alleged members of the group, Juan Leal Casillas and Jose Roberto Jimenez Perez, are still at large.

Their victims were dealers from Australia and Asia here to buy and sell jewellery.

The wanted men are travelling on Mexican passports and were last seen in Christchurch on May 27.

They may be travelling in a grey Mitsubishi rental car.

Detectives believe most of the jewellery has been recovered, but are still assessing exactly what went missing and what they have since found.

Police were alerted to the gang after Sydney-based dealer John Wertheim was robbed of $110,000 worth of jewellery in Parnell in daylight on May 2.

The thieves allegedly struck again on May 17.

Again it was in a public place, outside the Rydges Hotel in Federal St in the central city, where two salesmen lost $660,000 worth of jewellery.

All the salesmen were believed to be in the city visiting potential buyers.

Mr Wertheim couldn't be contacted last night but a spokeswoman for his employer, J S Landau Diamonds, said the company "wanted to be very careful what is published about the robbery".

Detective Inspector Scott Beard told the Herald the thieves shouldn't expect New Zealand to be soft on crime.

"New Zealand shouldn't be seen as an easy touch by overseas criminals. Police work closely with Customs and Immigration and in this particular case, the joint effort got results."

Mr Beard warned the alleged thieves that they would most likely find it hard to hide here.

"New Zealand is such a small country [that] generally, with public assistance, [police] find people they're looking for - which doesn't necessarily happen in bigger jurisdictions."

The hospitality industry and Customs have been put on alert for Casillas and Perez.

He said the dealers were not hurt during the robberies. "Probably the biggest injury was losing their property."

Mr Beard said the arrested people and Casillas and Perez were likely to be part of a syndicate with links to South America.

The victims had been deliberately targeted but he could not discuss details now that some of the accused were before the courts.

More than 1000 items were stolen but only a few pieces had still to be recovered, Mr Beard said.

"You can imagine there are a lot of items and we just need to go through and check them off inventories, but at this stage it would appear we have recovered a lot of it."

Three of those arrested are Colombian nationals travelling on United States passports. The nationalities of the other two are not known but they arrived in New Zealand in April using Mexican passports.

ROBBERIES ON CITY STREETS

HEIST 1
* Parnell, May 2.
* Sydney-based salesman is robbed of $110,000 on a Parnell street.

HEIST 2
* Federal St, central Auckland, May 17.
* Two salesmen are robbed of $660,000 worth of jewellery.

- NZ Herald

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