26 Aug 2010

Medals thief jailed, ordered to repay reward money

6:15 pm on 26 August 2010

A judge has told a career criminal he made a gross miscalculation in stealing medals from the National War Museum, as all New Zealanders resented him interfering with national icons.

The 96 medals, which included nine Victoria Crosses, were stolen in December 2007 but were safely returned in February 2008 for a $300,000 reward.

James Joseph Kapa was sentenced in Auckland District Court on Thursday to six years in jail for his role in the theft.

A minimum non-parole period of four years was imposed on the burglary charge.

Judge Graham Hubble also ordered Kapa to repay $100,000 of reward money, but acknowledged it may never be seen.

He told Kapa that he either has gang connections or is shouldering the blame so that his family can enjoy the money.

Kapa has more than 170 previous convictions and is already in prison, so the latest penalty will be served on top of his current term.

His accomplice, Ronald Van Wakeren, was sentenced to 11 years' jail last year for his part in the burglary.

Upham family grateful

The daughter of war hero Charles Upham, whose Victoria Cross and Bar were among the stolen medals, addressed the court and thanked police for their magnificent effort in the case.

Amanda Upham says Kapa's sentence is fair and it is a great relief to her family that the medals are now back at the museum in Waiouru.

She told the court she hopes Kapa will gain a qualification in order to be of benefit to the community upon his release.

National Army Museum director Colonel Raymond Seymour broke down in court when he described how the theft had torn at the hearts of his staff and himself.

Outside the court, he said it was a crime against the nation and it had taken an emotional toll.

Colonel Seymour says he does not accept Kapa is remorseful, describing him as simply a cold calculating criminal.

Intensive inquiry

The officer who headed the inquiry, Detective Inspector Chris Benseman, told Checkpoint the three-year inquiry into was very intensive.

"Right from the outset there was national pressure, there was international interest. But at the same time the staff have always set two very clear objectives: to recover the medals and to apprehend those responsible.

"(It's a) fantastic day today because we've finalised both those objectives."