Elusive dealer nabbed

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2012

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Christchurch police have arrested an art dealer they described as a "ghost" they had been unable to find for more than two years.

The Sunday Star-Times tracked Donald Cornes to a rented townhouse in Colombo St, Christchurch, in May and passed the information to the police.

The Star-Times has learnt Cornes was arrested on Thursday and charged with theft and fraud.

He will appear in Christchurch District Court on Tuesday.

Cornes was wanted in connection with the alleged theft of four paintings, conservatively valued at $75,000, belonging to a former client, award-winning Taranaki artist John McLean.

The police had put out airport alerts because Cornes was known to travel between New Zealand and Australia, where in the late 1980s he was considered one of the foremost dealers of Australian colonial art and ran a Gold Coast gallery.

The police had visited a number of Christchurch addresses where Cornes was thought to be staying, but could not find him.

All the while, his son was attending Christ's College.

In May, detective Paul Johannsen said finding Cornes had been made harder because of the earthquakes, with addresses he was staying at destroyed.

"He's a bit like Casper the ghost really. I always seem to be one step behind him."

The Star-Times tracked down Cornes after making inquiries over several days. He refused to come to the door, drawing the curtains and occasionally peeking out.

McLean alleges Cornes absconded with four paintings, including the 2008 Wallace Award finalist Fisher Family Departing, after he ended Cornes' agency.

McLean said he tried repeatedly to get his money or have the paintings returned.

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- Sunday Star Times

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