Hokitika man denies pounamu theft

A battle over Maori customary rights to greenstone has erupted on the West Coast, with a Hokitika carver accused of stealing it from his iwi.

Bevan Charles Climo, 53, of Kaniere, denied a charge of stealing tahutahi (snowflake pounamu) valued at more than $1000 from Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu in May.

Climo, a former member of the Ngai Tahu Pounamu Management Group, had about 20 supporters in the public gallery at Greymouth District Court for his first appearance on the charge.

He was remanded on bail to appear in court on November 12 for a pre-committal hearing.

Climo was a supporter of Haast helicopter pilots David and Morgan Saxton, who were convicted in 2007 of stealing snowflake pounamu, from October 1997 to September 2003, valued at more than $300,000. They unsuccessfully claimed they had customary rights to take the pounamu and appealed against their jail sentences of two years and nine months for David Saxton and two years and six months for his son.

Morgan Saxton died in November 2008 before their appeal, which quashed David Saxton's jail term and instead saw him sentenced to six months' home detention.

In 1997, the Ngai Tahu (Pounamu Vesting) Act gave pounamu ownership and management to Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu within its takiwa (area), excluding the Arahura River Catchment.

All snowflake pounamu originates from South Westland's Cascade Plateau, which is within the iwi's control area and protected from theft under the Crimes Act 1961.

Anyone found guilty of theft of property valued at more than $1000 could face up to seven years' jail.

The Press