Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

'It's a never-ending nightmare'

High-profile fugitive vows to clear his name of sex and fraud claims.
Simone Wright and Paul Bennett. Photo / Supplied
Simone Wright and Paul Bennett. Photo / Supplied

One of the country's highest-profile fugitives who evaded capture for more than a decade says fraud and sex allegations levelled against him are untrue and is vowing to clear his name.

In an exclusive interview from inside the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, convicted fraudster Paul James Bennett told the Herald on Sunday he was a victim of wild, unsubstantiated accusations.

Bennett has spent the best part of the last 14 years on the run from authorities in Australia and New Zealand. But the fugitive life came crashing to a halt in February last year when police arrested 53-year-old Bennett as he sailed into Sydney Harbour from Northland on board a crippled yacht.

In breaking his silence he said he was determined to fight any charges New Zealand police were preparing to bring against him.

"I deny these. I'm really looking forward to clearing my name," Bennett said.

Bennett's life on the run started when he disappeared from Australia in 2001 while on bail for fraud charges.

They related to getting credit by using forged payslips which showed he was employed as Russell Crowe's personal helicopter pilot.

In 2008 he and his former television presenter wife Simone Wright resurfaced in New Zealand. Police issued a warrant for their arrest relating to the sexual assault of a girl.

The couple vanished again but six years later police said Bennett was a person of interest in a fraud investigation they believed may total more than $1 million.

Yesterday, Bennett described the past 14 years as a "never-ending nightmare".

It's been horrifying that I've never been able to speak my side of things.
Paul Bennett

He revealed his marriage to Wright had hit the rocks. She had not spoken to him for more than a year and was now living 150km north of Sydney with her mother.

"I realise there's a lot of allegations and they seemed to have snowballed. I appreciate the police have a job to do but ... I have got a good defence."

He declined to elaborate on what that defence would be.

Bennett was last week convicted in Australia on charges dating back 15 years when he applied for finance under the guise of working and living at Hollywood actor Russell Crowe's family farm near Coff's Harbour.

The court heard he bought a Jeep Cherokee and ran up debts of nearly $20,000 on various credit cards, none of which have been repaid.

Yesterday, Bennett maintained he flew the actor for some 120 flights and held a valid pilot licence, but said he ran into trouble with the law through an administrative oversight.

After coming to New Zealand Bennett immersed himself in the helicopter, boating and motor-racing circles. But he and Wright were back on the run after they failed to turn up to court to face indecent assault charges in 2008.

The pair evaded capture from New Zealand authorities for a further six years until they resurfaced with new identities, selling Rolex watches on TradeMe and brokering helicopter deals.

Bennett has used aliases including David Kite, Paul Lochead, David Hanson and Dennis Kite. Wright is said to have identified herself as Sarah Kite, Sarah Shaw and Simone Thalia Williams.

The couple went to ground again when police launched Operation Kite in 2014 to investigate a string of fraud allegations in relation to those deals and others dating back to 1998.

Bennett said yesterday Australian Immigration officials told him he would probably be back in New Zealand in four weeks.

He said he had really had a "bad run" and had been upset by the untruths written about him.

"It's been horrifying that I've never been able to speak my side of things," he said.

HeliPower director Mike Jacomb offered a $50,000 bounty to find Bennett, alleging Bennett had swindled him out of more than $250,000 in business deals.

Jacomb was not surprised by Bennett's protestations of innocence. "They [Bennett and wife Simone] are in denial. He needs to be in denial to survive. He's got a lot to answer for."

- Herald on Sunday

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