Thursday, 30 September 2004 - 2:00pm |

Operation Pukapuka

2 min read

The Canterbury Serious Crime Squad yesterday began the termination of an operation that has been running for the last five months into the burglary of libraries throughout New Zealand and the theft of rare and New Zealand Books.

Some of the libraries affected are, the Auckland University Library, Waikato University Library, Massey University Library, Victoria University Library, Canterbury University Library, The Canterbury Museum, The Christchurch City library and the Otago University Library. Books have also been found with identification marks from the Christchurch Teachers’ College Library, the Havelock Library and the New Plymouth Public Library. It is likely that other libraries have valuable books stolen.

There are likely to be other collections also that have been affected – such as those belonging to Clubs that maintain their own book collections. One such is the Canterbury Mountaineering Club.

Many of the books recovered so far have signs that their identifiable markings have been obliterated, altered or removed and some of the books have been re-bound.

The Christchurch based group involved has been operating for a number of years.

On 29 September 2004 seven people were arrested in connection with the burglary of the libraries and receiving the proceeds. A number of firearms were also found on one property and the Police are seeking the owners of them.

The Police believe that there may be as many as 12 people involved in this criminal enterprise.

Some of those were involved in the identification the potential items to be stolen, the stealing of the books, the processing of these books for on-selling, the actual sale of the books involved and the laundering of the proceeds of the book sales.

The sales of these books has been both within New Zealand and internationally.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae said that this has been dealing in some of New Zealand’s heritage, some of which will almost certainly be irretrievable.

Many of the items stolen were not available to be borrowed from the libraries but they were held in trust for the people of New Zealand, or as valuable reference material.

An example of the books involved are the three books published in 1785, "A voyage of discovery in the Pacific Ocean", by Captain James Cook that were stolen from the Invercargill library in 2003.

These valuable diaries were recovered yesterday during searches undertaken by the Police team.

The investigation to date has been intensive over the short time it has been running. Now the investigation will continue on for some time in order to not only collect further evidence and unravel the full extent of the enterprise but to retrieve as many of the stolen items as possible.

The Police investigation has been greatly assisted by staff from local libraries who have a vested interest in seeing this valuable material retrieved and that it is once again available to students and the public.

The police executed 16 search warrants throughout the city and many books believed to have been stolen recovered. There are many other books yet to be scrutinised to establish whether they too have been stolen.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae

Christchurch Police.