Record crim's freedom bid fails

An audacious life-long criminal, responsible for the country's biggest robbery of its time and still holding the title of our biggest art heist, has failed in a bid to be released from prison.

Ricardo Romanov, who also goes by the names Anthony Ricardo Sannd and Ricardo Genovese, has a string of convictions for armed robberies including in October 1984 when he and Charles Thomas Willoughby carried out what was then the country's biggest robbery - $294,529 taken from a security van at an Auckland Foodtown supermarket.

His most high-profile crime came in 1998 when he rushed into the Auckland Art Gallery carrying a shotgun, grabbed a James Tissot painting worth $2 million, and made a speedy getaway on a motorbike. A week later police arrested him and found the valuable artwork under his bed.

He was jailed for nearly 14 years for the Tissot snatch and grab, with more jail time added on for separate thefts of various motorbikes. He was released on parole in March last year. Less than two months later the 63-year-old was back in jail due to the disappearance of yet another motorbike, this one a $130,000 Ducati. The Parole Board recalled him to jail also to complete his sentence for the Tissot theft.

Romanov used the ancient right of a habeas corpus writ (the right to demand to have a court decide whether he was being held legally) to challenge the Parole Board decision and try to get himself out of jail. His bid was rejected by the High Court at Auckland last week.

In the past, Romanov has resorted to other means to spring himself from prison. In February 2006, as an inmate at Rangipo Prison, he ran off on his first day of work at a prison farm.

After four weeks on the run, the Armed Offenders Squad surrounded a house in Pukekohe. Several firearms were found and Romanov, who is bald, was found wearing a wig that was described as looking "like a cat without any legs". Detective Senior Sergeant Neil Grimstone said at the time that the wig was the same one that Romanov wore a week earlier when he took a BMW for a test drive but failed to return it.

The subsequent convictions saw another three years heaped on to his original sentence and Romanov was back behind bars - all up, his jail time was now to be 19 years.

The profusion of sentences he faced then caused confusion at the courts - Romanov appealed the sentence handed down for his escape and a High Court judge set all the sentences aside and imposed a new one. But in doing so he seemed to make a mistake, misreading the length of one of the earlier sentences. That set the ground for Romanov to argue his current recall by the Parole Board was technically illegal because the shorter sentence meant he was no longer subject to Parole Board oversight. The High Court last week noted it was likely yet another round of legal wrangling was in store to sort out the issue.

Sunday Star Times