Theft of Māori paintings stuns descendant

A descendant of the Māori chief depicted in an expensive painting stolen in a daring art heist has spoken of his shock.

The whereabouts of the two valuable works remain a mystery as police continue to investigate the crime.

The paintings are understood to depict relatives of Chief Hori Ngatai, a distinguished warrior who helped defeat the British at Gate Pa in the 1800s.

His descendant, Kihi Ngatai, only learned of the paintings' existence a few weeks ago when they were being prepared for auction.

He's saddened that the paintings may never be seen again.

"I hope the police find them and catch the fellas that stole them," he told Newshub.

One of the most pressing questions is what motives could be behind the robbery.

Experts say if they were simply opportunist thieves, they'd have zero chance of flicking them off for cash.

"They'd be absolutely impossible to onsell, because anyone who'd spend that kind of money on that kind of painting are going do a quick Google search," art crime expert Penelope Jackson told Newshub.

"They're going to come up with these stories that these works have in fact been stolen."

Police have today been continuing their investigation into the heist and are following several lines of inquiry.

They're still asking anyone who may have information about the paintings' whereabouts to contact them, even if they do so anonymously.

Ngāi Te Rangi iwi are hoping for a safe return.

"They're significant to iwi. And we class them as the treasures - as taonga," Mr Ngatai said.

Auckland's International Art Centre has put on extra security in the wake of the break-in, but it says its auction of other important and rare works will go ahead as planned on Tuesday night.