'Pilot' on the run from police

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Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014
Fraud suspects
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WANTED: Paul James Bennett, right, and his partner, Simone Anne Wright.

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A man who has evaded international police and once talked his way into becoming a helicopter pilot for Hollywood actor Russell Crowe is now being hunted by New Zealand investigators.

Paul James Bennett, aged about 50, is a suspect in an alleged $250,000 rip-off of a Canterbury-based helicopter company.

Bennett and his partner, Simone Anne Wright, aged about 40, have not been heard from since the alleged fraud unravelled early last month.

Police have searched the couple's last known address in Middleton, Christchurch, but the pair have vanished without a trace.

Bennett was born in the Waikato and has a long reported history of eluding police, here and abroad. He once slipped through the fingers of Australian police while facing charges, reports say.

In the early 1990s, he was also at the centre of a High Court case in Britain where he claimed he was kidnapped by police while working undercover as a helicopter pilot for the CIA in South Africa.

In 2003, Sydney police indicted him on six charges but Bennett went to ground and the charges were never heard.

He had been hired as Crowe's helicopter pilot to fly him between Sydney and his Coffs Harbour estate in New South Wales, but was later found to not have a licence.

Detective Sergeant Craig Farrant yesterday said Bennett was a "person of interest" in relation to an ongoing fraud investigation. There was a warrant out for the couple's arrest.

According to police, the duo were known to use several aliases and drove a rare two-door silver BMW, registration GGN840.

"We do not know what identities they are currently travelling under, or where they are," Farrant said.

"We urge them to come forward and contact us so that we can talk to them," Farrant said.

The helicopter company's owner has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction.

He said he had no idea he had been duped until early last month.

He said Bennett was contracted by the company to find several helicopters and other parts overseas.

During that time, the owner said, Bennett used the alias David Kite, which was backed up by documents, including a driver's licence and registration.

Bennett allegedly fabricated and inflated invoices for parts he had supposedly bought and was reimbursed by the company, according to the owner.

The money was then transferred into an account in Nelson. The company owner said he was embarrassed to find out he had been ripped off.

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Bennett was "besotted" with Wright and committed crimes to maintain the lifestyle she demanded, the company owner said.

He believed the couple were still somewhere in the South Island.

Anyone with information was urged to contact Christchurch police on 03 363 7400 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ALSO KNOWN AS

Paul James Bennett's known aliases: Paul James Williams, David Kite, Dennis Kite, Paul Lochead, David Hanson.

Simone Anne Wright's known aliases: Sarah Kite, Sarah Shaw, Simone Thalia Williams, Simone Thalia Wright. 

- The Press

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