Kiwi fugitives busted in Sydney on stolen yacht

Simone Anne Wright and Paul James Bennett on the run
Simone Anne Wright and Paul James Bennett on the run

FUGITIVE couple Paul Bennett and Simone Wright have been arrested in Sydney on board a stolen yacht after evading police since May last year.

New South Wales Police located the pair on board a damaged NZ$150,000 yacht that was stolen from Opua in Bay of Islands last week.

The fugitives are wanted in connection to sex charges and an alleged NZ$250,000 fraud.

Police said it was too early to say whether they would be extradited to New Zealand or what charges, if any, would be laid in Australia.

Last night businessman Mike Jacomb, of Picton, who had offered a NZ$50,000 bounty for information on the pair, confirmed to the Otago Daily Times the yacht had been sighted in Sydney about 9pm.

"I'm so happy," the Helipower director, who claims he was ripped off more than NZ$250,000 by the couple, said this morning.

This month the Otago Daily Times reported the couple had been sighted in Dunedin after selling a distinctive BMW to a car dealer last year.

The pair were found on board the yacht Harlech, stolen from Opua in Northland earlier this month.

The NZ$145,000 fibreglassed kauri cutter - owned by Whangarei couple Steve and Carol Holland - was stolen from its mooring at Opua at the start of the month and suspicion almost immediately turned to Bennett and Wright

Mr Holland said today it had been confirmed that the yacht found was Harlech and he was pleased that it had been found. He did not want to comment further until he had spoken to police.

It's understood that the yacht has a damaged forestay.

The stolen yacht was found thanks to followers of the sailing site LiveSailDie.

A statement on the LiveSailDie website said: "Thanks to some quick action from one of our followers and with the help of the yachting network and the sailing community as a whole, LiveSailDie is very pleased to announce the New Zealand sailing vessel "Harlech" has been identified approaching the Australian coast.

Communication from LiveSailDie team member Daz to the Australian and New Zealand authorities overnight has resulted in the vessel being identified, boarded and seized while approaching land."

Mr Jacomb said he was "thrilled" to hear of the arrests and was confident the pair would be brought back to New Zealand to face justice.

"They never cleared New Zealand Customs, so it's not an extremely difficult extradition, it's only a matter of bringing them back here now... They've got a lot to answer for."

A spokesman for New South Wales Police said the couple had been held overnight and were assisting police with inquiries.

He said they could possibly be appearing in court today and more information would be released later this morning.

Mr Jacomb said the last information he had received was that they were in Northland looking for a boat to flee the country.

Bennett is said to be a competent sailor, and has an Australian passport.


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