Supremacist in court after weeks on run

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am

An Australian white supremacist accused of plotting to firebomb four Chinese restaurants appeared in court yesterday following his capture after six weeks on the run.

Police found Jack van Tongeren, 58, hiding in bushland southeast of Perth, Western Australia, with a fellow member of the neo-Nazi Australian Nationalist Movement, Matthew Billing.

The two men and a third co-accused, John van Blitterswyk, had been due to face trial in Perth last month for allegedly plotting to burn down the Chinese restaurants. But they skipped bail on February 20 and disappeared, sparking a nationwide hunt.

They were arrested on Tuesday night in a raid led by police from Western Australia's State Security Investigation Group and Tactical Response Group. A police spokesman said the arrests were 'a suitable conclusion to what has been a long and intense investigation'.

Officers found three firearms in the bush camp where the men were living, near Boddington, 123km south of Perth. Van Tongeren, a Vietnam veteran, and Billing were not required to enter a plea when they appeared in the District Court of Western Australia, Perth, charged with breaching bail.

Both were remanded in custody until June 20, when a new trial date will be set.

All three have denied conspiring to firebomb the restaurants in Perth in June and July 2004.

Van Tongeren's lawyer, Geoffrey Vickridge, said his client was shaken by his six weeks on the run, adding: 'I am pleased that he is alive, he is well.'

John McRoberts, assistant commissioner of Western Australia Police, said detectives would investigate what the pair had been doing since fleeing. 'And, of course, if there is evidence to suggest they had been assisted by a third party.'

Van Tongeren masterminded a campaign of arson and racist hate in Perth in the late 1980s. He was jailed for 18 years in 1990 but released in 2002 after serving 12 years.

Two years ago, he sent a letter to several prominent Australians, including Prime Minister John Howard, railing against 'all MPs who actively support Asianisation and multiracialism'.