Two men charged with the theft of priceless bravery awards from the Waiouru Army Museum last year are behind bars tonight after being arrested in west Auckland early on Wednesday.
Neither man resisted police when they were take into custody, a 39-year-old at his Te Atatu home, and a 37-year-old man at Waimauku.
They are accused of breaking into the museum in December when 96 medals, including nine Victoria Crosses, were stolen.
In Auckland District Court on Wednesday the two accused, who were granted interim name suppression, entered no plea and were remanded in custody to reappear next week.
One of the men also faced 42 additional fraud charges unrelated to the medal theft.
Judge Phillipa Cunningham refused to allow them to be filmed or photographed in the dock, even if their faces were obscured.
The nine Victoria Crosses included the two awards — a medal and a bar — made to New Zealand soldier Charles Upham.
He was the only soldier to win the VC twice in World War 2 and one of only three men to win the VC twice.
The police announcement of the arrests at a media conference in Auckland shortly after midday was greeted with relief by family members of VC holders and the army.
The medals were recovered in February after a $NZ300,000 reward was paid for information of their whereabouts.
They are expected to be returned to the museum in a formal ceremony later this month.
Amanda Upham, daughter of Charles Upham, said she was “delighted” to hear about the arrests.
“It’s a bit of closure,” she said.
Defence minister Phil Goff said New Zealanders overwhelmingly wanted to see the medal thieves brought to justice for a crime of greed which would have robbed New Zealand “of a part of our heritage which has incalculable worth”.
On Wednesday detective senior sergeant Chris Bensemann, who led the inquiry into the theft and arrested the two men today, said the country should be proud of the work the police inquiry team had done.
“This is something that outraged the nation. This is something that needed to be resolved.”
He said after nearly 11 months it was the right time to charge the men.
“There has been no significant breakthrough. It has been a thorough investigation and today the timing was right to make the arrest.”
Shortly before they appeared in court Bensemann said it was an extremely complex and sensitive investigation. He refused to say more about the inquiry but said details would emerge later.
“The return of the medals undamaged in February was wonderful news but these arrests was what the Operation Valour team has worked so hard to achieve.”
He said police did not anticipate further arrests.
The arrested men had been “persons of interest” since January as a result of information received, he said.
Bensemann said the police team was still making inquiries and if the two men were found to have any of the reward money, moves would be made to recover it.