Waiouru medal theft 'not for profit'

By Edward Gay

Ronald van Wakeren claims he stole medals from the Waiouru Army Museum to negotiate more lenient sentences for other crimes. Photo / Doug Sherring
Ronald van Wakeren claims he stole medals from the Waiouru Army Museum to negotiate more lenient sentences for other crimes. Photo / Doug Sherring

Career criminal Ronald van Wakeren stole Waiouru Army Museum medals to negotiate more lenient sentences for other crimes.

Van Wakeren was one of a group of thieves who broke into Waiouru Army museum and stole 96 medals, including nine Victoria Crosses, in 2007.

He has more than 200 criminal convictions and appeared in the Court of Appeal today before three justices where his lawyer argued he should be given a lesser prison sentence.

Van Wakeren's previous convictions were alluded to in court and run to some 12 typed pages.

He is currently serving a prison sentence of 13-1/2 years with a minimum non-parole period of seven years for a mortgage scam, a $500,000 clothing company fraud and stealing the war medals.

Justice Lynton Stevens described van Wakeren's offending as having a high degree of premeditation some of which required "exceptional planning".

His lawyer Gary Gotlieb said his client was a "model prisoner" who had donated money to the Pike River Coal Mine appeal.

"Time has moved on, van Wakeren accepts that four years ago he was a professional criminal."

But while van Wakeren had donated to the Pike River Mine appeal, Justice Ronald Young said he was a man who had benefited from his offending to the tune of "tens of thousands of dollars".

Mr Gotlieb said his client had a debt to pay to society and he was sorry for what he had done. He said his client had pleaded guilty at an early stage to stealing the war medals.

Mr Gotlieb said no minimum term of imprisonment was necessary and said an overall sentence "in the range of nine years" was appropriate.

He said van Wakeren had not aimed to profit from stealing the medals but had intended to use them to negotiate with police to get lenient sentences.

"The reality is that he never wanted money, or asked for money. He wanted the medals returned."

Justice Geoffery Venning said van Wakeren stole the medals for his benefit and whether he did it to negotiate with police or for ransom was not important.

Crown prosecutor Brett Tantrum said there was still a significant amount of money outstanding from van Wakeren's mortgage scams and other dishonesty offending which totalled more than $1 million.

He said van Wakeren's early guilty plea had avoided a trial but came 11 months after he was first charged.

The justices called for further submissions and have reserved their decision.

Van Wakeren and James Kapa broke into the museum and caused $24,000 worth of damage.

They stole 96 medals, including the Victoria Cross won by Charles Upham. In February 2008, the medals were returned after a deal was brokered by barrister Chris Comeskey.

Colonel (rtd) Ray Seymour was in court today and afterwards told APNZ that he felt he owed it to the people of New Zealand to be present at the hearing.

"It had the nation totally up in arms, that someone would have even contemplated taking these national treasures, these taonga."

He said the reason the medals were returned so quickly was due to the high amount of public anger.

Van Wakeren's father and sister were also in court but declined to comment.

Kapa is also appealing his sentence. A hearing has been set down for tomorrow.

MEDAL RECOVERY

* December 2, 2007: Waiouru Army Museum burgled and 96 medals stolen, including nine Victoria Crosses, worth an estimated $5.7 million.

* February 15, 2008: Medals were returned after deal brokered by barrister Chris Comeskey. A reward of $200,000 paid to thieves.

* February 21, 2008: TV3 broadcasts a John Campbell interview with one of the burglars, a hooded actor referred to as "Robert".

* October 15, 2008: Two men arrested, known as K and W.

* June 30, 2009: High Court hearing to determine whether TV3 staff have to give evidence to identify "Robert" in trial. John Campbell refuses to identify him but later agrees to confirm other evidence.

* September 10, 2009: Ronald van Wakeren, or W pleads guilty to stealing the medals. Sentenced to 11 years in prison.

* August 2010: James Kapa also pleads guilty and is sentenced.

*August 30, 2011: Van Wakeren appears at the Court of Appeal.

*Tomorrow: Kapa to appear at the Court of Appeal.

- APNZ

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