Puneet Puneet after being bailed from the Magistrates Court in 2008. Photo: Angela Wylie
An Indian national who has been on the run for years after pleading guilty to killing a teen in Melbourne while drunk and speeding has been arrested in India.
Puneet Puneet, now 24, was last year made the subject of a $100,000 reward after skipping out on a sentencing hearing for culpable driving in 2009.
The hospitality student was drunk and driving at high speeds when 19-year-old Dean Hofstee was killed and 20-year-old Clancy Coker was seriously injured in Southbank on October 1, 2008. The two students were pedestrians and visiting from Queensland.
Peter and Fran Hofstee, parents of Dean Hofstee. Photo: John Woudstra
Puneet was charged by Victoria Police with culpable driving and negligently causing serious injury. He recorded a blood alcohol reading of 0.165.
In 2009, Puneet used a friend's passport to fly back to his home country after entering the plea.
Police in Puneet's home state of Haryana had led the search for him for four years, monitoring his family's movements, even tapping their phones, and offering large cash rewards for information that led to his arrest.
Victim... Dean Hofstee
But it appears he deliberately avoided his home town of Pankchula, and made no contact with his family.
“Still he is evading us,” Detective Superintendent of Haryana police Arun Kumar said last year, as police took out fresh newspaper advertisements asking for information.
“We keep trying but we haven't got any leads yet. He could be anywhere in India.”
The reward of $100,000, more than 5 million Indian rupees, for information leading to his arrest was a massive amount of money in a country where the average wage is about $1000.
It is unknown if information from a member of the public in India led to Puneet's arrest, and whether the reward will be claimed.
It appears Puneet was arrested far from home. On Saturday, Superintendent Kumar said he was unaware he had even been arrested, let alone had faced court.
“I have no information about this, that he has been arrested,” he told Fairfax.
Puneet is almost certain to be extradited to Australia.
Indian authorities have indicated they have no opposition to Australia's claim, and in January 2011 a treaty came into force between Australia and India allowing for the extradition of “any persons who are wanted for trial, or the imposition or enforcement of a sentence … for an extraditable offence”.
The new treaty means Australia does not have to prove Puneet's guilt to Indian authorities, only “reasonably establish that the person sought has committed the offence”.
He was arrested as a result of a joint investigation between Victoria Police's major collision investigation unit and Australian and Indian authorities.He appeared in a local court and was remanded in custody.
The student whose passport Puneet used, Sukhcharanjit Singh, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice and was sentenced to two and and half years' jail.
AAP, Ben Doherty, Goya Dmytryshchak