The arrests of two men in relation to last year's theft of war medals from the Waiouru Army Museum have brought relief to relatives of the holders.
A 37-year-old from Te Atatu Peninsula and a 39-year-old from Waimauku appeared in Auckland District Court this afternoon charged with breaking into the museum and stealing 96 medals, including nine Victoria Crosses on December 2 last year.
The 37-year-old faces an additional 42 fraud charges not related to the medals theft.
Both men have been given interim name and image suppression and were remanded in custody until next Wednesday, October 22.
The medals were recovered in February after a $300,000 reward was paid out for information of their whereabouts and are due to be returned to the museum in a formal ceremony this month.
Amanda Upham, daughter of double VC winner Charles Upham, said she was "delighted" to hear of the arrests.
"It's a bit of closure," she said.
Mary Higham, daughter of another VC winner Keith Elliott, said she was not surprised to hear of the arrests but they came as somewhat of a relief.
"It's nice to know that the work came to a good conclusion and that the police got a good result," she said.
"It's good for the community to know that these people are brought to justice and they don't just get away with it."
Although the medals now belonged to Feilding School, Mrs Higham said the family still had a vested interest in them, and wanted to be certain they were taken care of as their parents would have wanted.
"Dad didn't want anybody to make any money from them or benefit from them in that way. He wanted them to be more an inspiration to people."
Defence Minister Phil Goff congratulated police for progressing to the point of laying charges.
"Conviction and sentencing are matters for the court.
"New Zealanders, however, overwhelmingly will want to see those responsible for the theft held to account for a crime, which for reasons of greed would have seen present and future New Zealanders robbed of a part of our heritage which has incalculable worth," Mr Goff said in a statement.
"The self-interested actions and greed of those who carried out this act stand in stark contrast to those men who risked or sacrificed their lives for their country in earning these medals."
The New Zealand Army also welcomed the news, thanking police for their "professionalism and commitment to the investigation".
"It is their hard work and dedication that has led to the arrests today," Deputy Chief of Army, Brigadier Phil Gibbons said.
"We sincerely thank all those involved."
He also acknowledged the support of the New Zealand public and media.
"It was the public outcry in response to the medals' theft that brought about their successful return."
Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Bensemann said the investigation was complex and sensitive but he would not divulge details of what led to the arrests today.
"The significance of the theft of the medals to the families of the soldiers, and New Zealand as a nation, has never been far from our minds," Mr Bensemann said.
"The return of the medals undamaged in February was wonderful news but these arrests are what the Operation Valour team have worked so hard to bring about."
He said no further arrests were likely but further charges against the men could be made.
Mr Bensemann said the matter was now before the courts and no further arrests were anticipated but further charges could result.
"Both persons have been of interest to the investigation since January," he said.
"The timing was right but there was no significant breakthrough."
He would not answer questions about what was captured on the CCTV footage from the museum or whether the cameras were working.
"This is something that outraged the nation. This was something that needed to be solved for the New Zealand public," Mr Bensemann said.
Mr Bensemann said if police found that the two arrested men had received part of the reward then they would seek to recover the money.
Lawyer Chris Comeskey brokered the deal that saw the medals returned.
Mr Bensemann said police have arranged an appointment with Mr Comeskey.
"We intend to speak to him in due course," Mr Bensemann said.
He said another lawyer was being spoken to in relation to the investigation but he would not comment further on who that might be or why police were speaking to them.
- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF