WELLINGTON - The drummer with legendary rock band AC/DC, Phil Rudd, was yesterday accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill two men after police raided his luxury New Zealand home.
The police swooped on the veteran rocker's waterfront house in Tauranga on the North Island in the early hours, and charged him with "attempting to procure murder" and threatening to kill.
They also charged the 60-year-old with possessing methamphetamine and cannabis after allegedly finding the drugs on his property, the Tauranga District Court was told.
Court officials confirmed that Rudd, a long-time member of one of the world's highest-grossing bands, was granted bail and ordered to reappear on Nov 27.
He looked tired and tousled as he appeared in court shoeless and wearing a baggy grey jumper, with his lawyer unsuccessfully arguing that the media should not be allowed to take images of him because they just wanted to capture his client "at his worst".
He was not required to enter a plea during his brief appearance, but court documents revealed that he is accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill two men in late September, although Judge Louis Bidois suppressed the identities of those involved.
Rudd, who has played on hits including Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap and Highway To Hell, refused to comment after leaving the court and was driven away in a silver Mercedes Benz.
Under New Zealand law, attempting "to procure any person to murder any other person" is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, while threatening to kill can lead to a seven-year sentence.
Stunned fans reacted on social media, airing concerns about the future of the band, which is still reeling from the retirement of founding member Malcolm Young in September after he entered a Sydney care facility suffering from dementia.
"This is so shocking i hope its not true but i will be praying for u guys and i hope yalls pull through this and bring him back," Joseph Anderson wrote on the band's official Facebook page, which has more than 30 million likes.
Tina Durst Van Gundy posted: "No matter...still one of my all-time favourite bands...hang in there guys."
Australian-born Rudd joined the band in 1975 and left in 1983 after arguing with Young.
He moved to New Zealand at the time, settling in the coastal community of Tauranga, about 150km south-east of Auckland.
He remained in the area even after patching up his differences with the band in 1994, using it as his base as he followed a punishing global touring schedule with the notoriously hard-living heavy-metal pioneers.
Rudd was part of the AC/DC line-up inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and won a Grammy for best hard-rock performance with the band for War Machine in 2010.
Later that year, he was convicted of cannabis possession after the police raided his boat, receiving a fine of NZ$250.
AC/DC are one of the best-selling music acts of all time, amassing sales estimated at 200 million albums worldwide and featuring songs that remain staples on classic rock radio, including Back In Black, Jailbreak and High Voltage.
Rudd, who released solo album Head Job in August, said earlier this year that Young's illness would not spell the end for the band.
"It'll never happen. Angus (Malcolm Young's brother) will never retire and, as long as Angus never retires, I won't retire either," he said then.
The band have since announced that a new album, Rock Or Bust, would be released shortly and they were due to undertake a world tour next year.