1 Apr 2010

Police looking for more stolen pounamu

12:20 am on 1 April 2010

Police who have seized $1 million worth of suspect pounamu from two Hokitika shops believe there is more of the jade still unaccounted for.

No arrests have been made following the raids on Tuesday morning on the Jade Factory and Mountain Jade shops, which are under the same ownership.

Ngai Tahu, which owns the title to all snowflake pounamu from the Cascade Plateau in South Westland, says the stone seized is the same type involved in prosecutions in 2005 and 2007.

A spokesperson for the Maori tribe says large volumes of stolen pounamu are still being fed into the market.

West Coast area commander, Inspector John Canning, says no one should be taking the stone.

"It only comes from one place, and that's the Cascade Plateau in South Westland. There's never been a mining permit issued for that.

"Ngai Tahu are the owners of it and they've never ever allowed anyone to take the stone from there. Any snowflake pounamu that's on them market, shouldn't be.

Mr Canning says police have not yet found all the pounamu they are looking for.

Factory owner says nothing to hide

The owner of the Jade Factory denies his company has done anything illegal.

Managing director John Sheehan says he has documentation to prove his stone was bought in good faith.

"Ours was sourced from people who we thought were legitimate traders."

He says all the factory's greenstone is documented, the company pays tax on it and everything is out in the open.

Mr Sheehan says he's keen to work with Ngai Tahu to smooth out supply problems. He says the black market and erratic supply is holding back the industry.

Three helicopter pilots have previously been prosecuted for stealing pounamu from the Cascade Plateau.

Harvey Hutton was convicted in 2005, and two years later David Saxton and his son Morgan Saxton were found guilty of taking pounamu from the area.

The mayor of the Westland District Council, Maureen Pugh, says she hopes the crackdown on the black market for pounamu will help and not hurt legitimate traders.

She says pounamu is important to the whole community, and the industry must not be jeopardised.