Armed robberies, prison escapes and a daring art heist - notorious Anthony Ricardo Sannd is heading back to prison after stealing a rare motorcycle worth $130,000

Fast motorcycles are a recurring theme in Anthony Ricardo Sannd's criminal history.

He bought one with his cut of a $300,000 armed heist.

He crashed one while on the run from prison; escaped on another after stealing an $8 million Tissot painting.

Now, at an age most people are enjoying retirement, Sannd's heading back to prison after stealing a motorcycle worth $130,000.


"He was old school, quite respectful of authority but still one of those old-time crooks,'' former police officer Neil Grimstone said after Sannd was arrested for the theft.

"A crook is a crook and he will always be a crook.''

Menace to society

Sannd, also known as Riccardo Genovese (the same name of Italian mafia notoriety) or Romanov, is one of New Zealand's most prolific career criminals.

He's a contemporary of Leslie Maurice Green, the late Chas Willoughby and Ronald Terrence Brown, godfathers of the criminal underworld.

Then aged 33, "a graphic artist of Glenfield" according to Herald archives, Sannd was arrested with Green and Willoughby and charged with the aggravated robbery of a security van outside a North Shore supermarket in 1984.

Wearing balaclavas and waving guns, three men took $294,529, the most money stolen in an armed hold-up at the time.

They even fired a warning shot at a bystander who gave chase.

Sannd's love of motorcycles became a talking point at trial.


One of the witnesses said Sannd asked if he could buy him a racing motorcycle, costing about $7000, while in Sydney.

The witness later asked if the money was "ill-gotten"; Sannd reassured him he was "straight up".

Despite a "rock solid" alibi from his mother (he was apparently at home all evening on the night in question, apart from 30 minutes when he went to buy petrol and motorcycle magazines), Sannd was convicted.

He was jailed for 10 years in 1986 by Justice Evan Prichard, who described him as a "menace to society" and a "hardened criminal resolved to live outside the law".

The robbery was a crime of violence, said Justice Pritchard, which posed a real danger to the lives of the terrified security guards - but also innocent bystanders.

While serving this sentence, Sannd escaped from prison and went on the run for two weeks.

His excuse? He had crashed a motorcycle and suffered amnesia.

Sannd, according to his lawyer, woke up in a ditch in the Manawatu Gorge in 1991 after test riding the bike for his employer while on temporary work release.

For two weeks, he apparently did not know who he was, or where he was supposed to be, until apparently remembering he should be behind bars while driving through Waiouru.

But instead of handing himself in, Sannd's lawyer said he panicked and drove to Auckland where he was eventually arrested.

It's unclear whether the judge bought his excuse, but just three months were added to his sentence.

It didn't take long before Sannd was in trouble again; jailed for five years in 1993 for robbing a bank in Kerikeri and making a getaway - on a motorcycle.

Hitting the big time

At the age of 47, Sannd (using the surname Romanov by this point) decided to write himself into the criminal history books.

He pulled up outside the Auckland Art Gallery in August 1998 on his Honda motorcycle.

Without removing his crash helmet, he ran inside yelling "get down" while holding a pistol in his right hand and a shotgun in his left.

"I did not react. He told me this was for real," Neil Charlwood, a part-time security guard who was in his 60s at the time, later told the court.

"I still did not react so he slammed the shotgun into my chest, which literally put me on the floor."

Detective Sergeant David French holding the wig and sawn off shotgun used in the Tissot robbery. Photo/NZ Herald.
Detective Sergeant David French holding the wig and sawn off shotgun used in the Tissot robbery. Photo/NZ Herald.
Anthony Ricardo Sannd at the time of the Tissot robbery. Photo/Supplied.
Anthony Ricardo Sannd at the time of the Tissot robbery. Photo/Supplied.

Wrenching James Tissot's 1874 masterpiece

Over the Top

from the wall with a crowbar, Sannd smashed the glass and hacked the canvas from the frame.

He rolled up the canvas, put it into a bag and fled, again firing a warning shot at someone who gave chase.

Police found the painting, badly damaged, hidden under Sannd's bed eight days later.

He claimed someone else put it there; he found it while vacuuming the house and didn't think it was valuable.

"Like something from a garage sale," he told the jury.

"I thought 'What is it doing here? Who put it there?'."

Unfortunately for Sannd, the ransom note signed by the "Chameleon" demanding $500,000 was forensically linked to his typewriter.

The shotgun cartridge fired at the Art Gallery also matched his firearm.

Sannd was also convicted of two armed robberies of security vans in Bombay and Waiuku, after which he sped off on high-powered motorcycles to escape.

In sentencing Sannd to a massive 16 years and 9 months in prison, Justice Judith Potter said he had "total contempt for the law" and the Tissot painting - "an international treasure" - had millions of dollars wiped from its value.

Once worth an estimated $8 million, Over the Top was valued at $2 million despite the best efforts of gallery conservator Sarah Hillary who spent months restoring it.

Tissot's masterpiece Still On Top back on display at the Auckland Art Gallery. Photo/ Doug Sherring.
Tissot's masterpiece Still On Top back on display at the Auckland Art Gallery. Photo/ Doug Sherring.

Justice Potter noted the previous description by Justice Pritchard, more than 20 years earlier, of Sannd as a "hardened criminal resolved to live outside the law".

"Unfortunately, you have proved that nothing has changed," said Justice Potter.

A second escape

Again proving that nothing had changed, Sannd managed to escape from prison for a second time.

In 2006, as part of a working party collecting firewood, he slipped away from a distracted guard and went on the run for 27 days.

His mother was on her deathbed, Sannd later explained in an interview with the Herald on Sunday.

"She wasn't well. She recognised my voice, though her eyesight was very poor. She didn't want my brothers to know I'd visited her - and neither did I. She died three months later."

While on the run, he stole a BMW and burgled a house and ended up getting a few more years added to his sentence.

One of the first things he did when freed from prison in 2012, was give that interview to the Herald on Sunday.

He swore his days of crime were over, he wanted to turn over a new leaf.

He had two dreams: to visit the graves of his wife and mother for the first time and to enjoy the only possession he owned - a $130,000 red and white Ducati Desmosedici RR motorcycle.

The bike, according to Sannd, was bought by an English friend with the proceeds of a house they owned together in Somerset. It was purchased with the $80,000 the police never recovered from his first armed robbery.

It had been in the UK ever since, waiting for Sannd to get out of jail and raise the money to ship it home.

Sannd did end up riding the limited edition $130,000 motorcycle - but it wasn't his.

Undone by DNA

He was charged with stealing an identical Ducati a year after the interview, then convicted at a retrial this year.

Anthony Sannd tries to hide after being charged with the Ducati theft in 2013. Photo/Greg Bowker.
Anthony Sannd tries to hide after being charged with the Ducati theft in 2013. Photo/Greg Bowker.

It was a sophisticated theft. The court heard how Sannd, now 65, spent much time planning the hit, including using various websites to track down the owners of an extremely rare vehicle.

Once he found an owner, he researched the rural Waitoki address - half an hour north of Auckland - to get the layout of the property.

When police raided his house they found detailed diagrams and engineering specifications as well as commercial paint removers they believed Sannd used to strip the bike.

His plan was undone after a balaclava was found at the scene of the burglary, which featured his DNA.

Tomorrow, he will be sentenced in the Auckland District Court to what is likely to be yet another stint behind bars.

Ducati Desmosedici.
Ducati Desmosedici.

Curiously, the hearing marks the fourth anniversary of the daring theft.

And what of the motorcycle Sannd dreamed of?

Only 1500 of the Ducati Desmosedici were built.

The one Anthony Ricardo Sannd stole was never found.

Anthony Ricardo Sannd

1986: Jailed for nearly 10 years after the country's biggest robbery at the time. $294,529 is taken from a security van at a Birkenhead supermarket, and the three security guards are pushed to the ground at gunpoint.

1991: Jailed for three years for another aggravated robbery. Later escapes from prison.

1996: Receives a five-year prison term for an armed robbery of the ANZ Bank in Kerikeri, in which he got away with $69,000. A stand-off with the armed offenders squad ensues before he is finally taken into custody

1999: Sentenced to more than 16 years for bank robberies and the infamous theft of an $8 million Tissot from the Auckland Art Gallery. He is later nabbed by police at a Waikato address with the painting hidden under a bed after sending them a $500,000 ransom demand. Later escapes from prison.

2017: To be sentenced for theft of rare $130,000 Ducati motorcycle.