A New Zealand man who flew back from Australia voluntarily to face charges of stealing more than 800 medals from Waiouru Army Museum over a seven-year period in a "devastating theft" made a brief appearance in court today.
Keith Davies, 57, appeared in Wellington District Court charged with the theft of 395 medal groups comprising 843 individual medals, obtaining property by deception, false accounting and unlawfully exporting New Zealand antiquities.
The medals have a combined estimated value of more that $256,000.
His arrest followed raids on a property in Queensland, Australia and Davies flew back to New Zealand today.
An application for name suppression for 72 hours so that he could inform his family in New Zealand was declined by Judge Ian Mill, who said Davies had known about the proceedings for some time and had had time to tell his family.
Any name suppression would cast unfair suspicion on army personnel and employees of Waiouru Army Museum.
Davies was remanded on bail to Wellington address on condition he surrender his passport and will reappear in the same court on September 22.
The thefts were not related to an incident in December 2007 where 96 medals, including nine Victoria Crosses, were stolen, police said.
It is alleged Davies man stole the medals between 1995 and 2002.
Central District Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said police were tipped off to the thefts by a TV1 report from about a year ago.
"As a result of that report, not long after the museum reported an allegation of theft to us."
Defence Force spokesman Major John Gordon said he could not reveal how the thefts went undetected as the matter was still before the court.
He said more details of how the thefts were conducted would be revealed if the man was convicted.
"There is an explanation for that but it relates to how the alleged theft occured. A conviction is required - then we will be more than upfront and very thorough in how we discuss this."
Losing the medals was "devastating" for the army, he said.
"When you think of what they represent in terms of New Zealanders sacrifice and courage in successive generations... losing them is quite devastating to us."
Deputy Chief of Army Brigadier Charles Lott said the Army discovered the missing medals as part of improvements it was making to its systems and processes.
"This is an historic event which happened up to sixteen years ago and prior to the theft of the VC medals. While we acknowledge there have been issues in the past, I can assure the public that all possible measures have been taken since then to guard against this happening again. "
Authorities have so far recovered 300 of the stolen medals including service medals, campaign medals and some gallantry medals.
Detective Senior Sergeant Keith Borrell said the man was arrested after an exhaustive investigation that lasted more than a year.
It involved significant cooperation with Australian police, he said.