A suspected paedophile who fled the country on a stolen yacht and then vanished off the coast of the Cook Islands is now being hunted by Interpol.
The whereabouts of West Auckland businessman David Peppiatt and whether he is still alive has perplexed police since the yacht he stole from Auckland was found, unmanned, off the coast of Rarotonga in January.
Peppiatt set sail for the Cook Islands six weeks before he was due to stand trial on charges involving sexual offences against children.
The 62-year-old reached his destination under the name of Kevin Maitland and complained of a heart condition, telling authorities he'd lost his passport.
Bonny, the yacht he still owed money on, was discovered with no sign of its skipper after searchers responded to a distress call.
Cook Islands police believe Peppiatt, who once lived in Henderson, had a heart attack, fell overboard and died.
The Crown subsequently decided not to prosecute in absentia given the likelihood that the defendant was dead.
But the case is back in the news after the sentencing of a former Cook Island police officer found guilty of stealing $5000 from the yacht which is now sitting in dry dock at Avatiu harbour.
The woman was sacked and is serving one year of community service and probation after paying back the stolen amount.
Her sentencing, reported in the Cook Island News on August 14, coincides with a second report that Peppiatt's name has been added to a list of fugitives sought by international crime-busting agency Interpol.
Waitemata police confirmed the move saying Peppiatt's details have been circulated in 190 member countries where requests for immediate extradition will be made if he is spotted.
But they won't speculate on the chance of him still being alive.
''The Cook Island Police are the best law enforcement authority to comment on this status,'' a spokesman said. ''We believe that they consider him to be a missing person.
''If they have similar laws to us then he would be classified as 'missing' for seven years before a coroner's final finding.''
A retired police detective from Australia, Rod Henderson, who is writing a book on Cook Islands crime, is also on the case.
Henderson claims he has spoken to people who saw a second person aboard Peppiatt's yacht when it made land.
Peppiatt was well known in West Auckland and dabbled in real estate during the late 1990s.
He was once chief executive of the Wizard Corporation - a company that presented a business proposal to the Waitakere City Council in 2004 - and had links to the sales of HRV Home Ventilation systems around the same time.
The amateur historian also won second place in the 2004 JT Diamond Essay Competition after researching and writing a piece on the Te Kawerau a Maki people who originally inhabited the Waitakere Ranges and the naming of Destruction Gully near Whatipunte.
Peppiatt had connections to Titirangi School where he helped develop and promote adjoining bush trails just under a decade ago.
He was a long time motorcycle enthusiast who organised a protest against ACC levy rises faced by owners of large bikes in 2009 and a vocal campaigner against Child, Youth and Family.
Police say Bonny is still on record as being stolen and is owned by a New Zealand resident who has yet to reclaim it.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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