Man behind medals theft named
By Jared Savage
One of the thieves who stole 96 medals from the Waiouru Army Museum in 2007 is a career criminal who has hundreds of convictions for fraud and dishonesty charges.
The Weekend Herald can reveal Ronald van Wakeren’s identity after a court order suppressing his name ended yesterday when he was sentenced in the Auckland District Court for an unrelated fraud totalling $500,000.
Van Wakeren has admitted his part in the Waiouru theft, although strict suppressions remain in place for the man police allege was his accomplice and who is still before the courts.
There are also strict suppression orders covering evidence relating to the police investigation into the theft of the medals, dubbed Operation Valour.
Van Wakeren was sentenced to 11 years’ prison for the medal thefts with other dishonesty and fraud charges in October last year, but he has amassed more than 200 convictions.
He was jailed yesterday for 4 years on the latest charges, which will be served concurrently with the sentence he is already serving.
The latest fraud involved more than $500,000 being taken from a clothing company using stolen online banking passwords and forged passports.
The company’s bank accounts were accessed and the money transferred to a series of false accounts that were disguised as payments to a courier company. Van Wakeren was on bail on a fraud charge when he stole the medals and was sent to jail three days after the heist while the medals were safely hidden. After a public outcry at the loss of the medals a $300,000 reward was offered for their safe return.
In February 2008, the medals were returned after a deal brokered by barrister Chris Comeskey. Details of the reward remain secret but part of it was paid. The police continued their investigation and in October 2008 Van Wakeren and another man were arrested for the medals thefts.
Van Wakeren pleaded guilty in September 2009 and was sentenced the following month.
At the sentencing he apologised, an action for which he was given credit for by the judge. He said he did not mean to target anyone individually.
“I apologise to all servicemen past and present who served for this country.
“I did it for my own personal gain and I sincerely apologise for everything I’ve done,” he said.
Herald archives show Van Wakeren first hit the headlines in 1990 on forgery and car theft charges.
A decade later, he was caught assuming the identities of two people so he could take out mortgages on their homes and pocket the money.
Van Wakeren was sentenced to 2 years in prison for that fraud, but started a similar scam in October 2003 shortly after his release.
He attempted to scam $180,000 from the HSBC bank using stolen and altered passports to get mortgages on houses he didn’t own – but was caught before the loan application could be signed.
RONALD VAN WAKEREN
* Stole 96 medals from the Waiouru Army Museum with an accomplice last year.
* Committed a $500,000 fraud on a clothing company.
* Has more than 200 convictions, many involving fraud and forgery.
– ADDITIONAL REPORTING: ANDREW KOUBARIDIS