Art dealer cleared of theft claims

An acclaimed art dealer has been cleared of allegations he stole valuable paintings from a top New Zealand artist.

Donald Cornes, 66, was acting as agent for Taranaki painter John McLean.

Mr McLean said he gave five pieces worth more than $70,000 to Cornes to sell on his behalf in 2009, but didn't receive any proceeds.

A charge of theft by person in a special relationship was withdrawn by police today.

Police prosecutor Stephen Burdes said he had assessed the file in recent days, after "having come to it late", and found there was insufficient evidence to continue chasing a prosecution.

The case has gone through a total of 13 pre-trial hearings, Mr Burdes told Christchurch District Court today.

Judge David Holderness said the move to withdraw the charge was "a sensible decision".

Cornes still faces a charge of attempting to obtain $18,250 by deception, and will be back in court for a pre-trial hearing later this month.

Cornes, who has denied both charges, declined to comment outside court today.

Police say they spent three years tracking down Cornes - a target they labelled a "ghost".

They issued airport alerts after learning that he often travelled to Australia where he had reportedly been a leading colonial art dealer in the 1980s.

Cornes was found living in Christchurch early last year and was charged.

He says he has been fighting to clear his name and reputation ever since.

- Kurt Bayer of APNZ

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