An art dealer accused of stealing valuable paintings from a top New Zealand artist made a brief reappearance in court today.

Police spent three years tracking down Donald Cornes, 66, a target they labelled a "ghost", after Taranaki painter John McLean claimed his former agent had stolen five pieces worth more than $70,000.

They had released airport alerts after hearing Cornes often travelled across the Tasman Sea where he was a leading Australian colonial art dealers in the 1980s.

Cornes was finally found living in Christchurch earlier this year and was charged with theft of five paintings which were allegedly given to him by McLean between April and September 2009 to sell.


He is also charged with attempting to gain $18,250 by deception through an insurance claim last June.

Today, he appeared at Christchurch District Court for a pre-hearing conference.

His lawyer Kerry Cook said the police file was "large" and asked for the case to be adjourned until next month.