Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Army's ammo goes AWOL

Over the past four years, more than $330,000 worth of military equipment has been stolen.  Photo / Getty Images
Over the past four years, more than $330,000 worth of military equipment has been stolen. Photo / Getty Images

Weapons and military equipment worth more than $330,000 have been stolen over four years from the Defence Force. The stolen items include mines, grenades, a dozen Kevlar helmets, 11 sets of body armour, gun accessories and two sets of night-vision goggles, valued at $6,647 and $8,000.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act show only 10 per cent of the AWOL gear has led to a police complaint.

Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff said there was a pattern of targeted offending and the Defence Force needed to be asked why it was failing to stop the theft.

The Army would not identify two stolen items, saying it could "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand".

Goff said: "If these items could prejudice the defence of the country, what could they do if they wound up in the hands of criminals?"

Nine laptops and external hard drives were also among the items stolen - as was a tenor horn and a Hyundai sedan.

A spokeswoman said the Army was not aware of any soldiers put at risk or sensitive information taken, but could not categorically confirm this. Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones said it was not possible to say how many of the thefts were carried out by their personnel.

A spokeswoman said most cases were dealt with internally. "It would not be correct to characterise it as a major problem as this is, on average, around just one item lost or stolen a week."

Between January 2009 and last year there were 261 thefts. Police said they were not aware of stolen military weapons being used to commit crimes. However, they suspect an NZ Post employee arrested in West Auckland on Wednesday for possessing material that could make pipe bombs got some of it from the military.

Also, former soldier Corporal Samuel George Ottley, 38, was recently convicted in the Christchurch District Court of unlawful possession of ammunition and theft of NZDF property.

- Herald on Sunday

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