Offending serious risk to New Zealand’s biosecurity

12 June 2007

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) welcomes the sentence handed down today in the North Shore District Court to Auckland man for the illegal importation of aquatic plants and aquarium equipment.

Henry Tan was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and ordered to pay twenty five thousand dollars reparation towards the cost of the clean up operation made necessary by his offending.

In February Mr Tan pleaded guilty to 36 charges relating to importation of unauthorised aquatic plants and new and second-hand aquarium equipment from Singapore into New Zealand between August 2004 and October 2005. He traded the items through the TradeMe website, deliberately selecting plants from Singapore that he knew were unavailable in New Zealand.

Mr Tan instructed his brother, based in Singapore, to purchase plants and post them to him. He also arranged for his brother to mis-declare plants as gifts and toys in an attempt to avoid detection and deliberately misspell his name to try and avoid responsibility should the plants be intercepted on arrival in New Zealand at the Auckland Mail Centre.

During the investigation and subsequent search of Mr Tan’s home, he was issued with a Restricted Place notice, requiring him to clean and sanitise all tanks, plants and fish. He was advised that no plants or related aquarium equipment be removed from or brought on to the property until further notice. Mr Tan breached this order within a few days by purchasing additional plants.

His Honour Judge Cadenhead commented whilst sentencing that it was clear that this was very serious offending against the Biosecurity Act, and that the impact could have been catastrophic for New Zealand.

MAF’s Compliance and Enforcement Investigations Manager, Greg Reid said he was pleased with the outcome of the case as it sent a clear message about how seriously New Zealand takes biosecurity.

“This is one of the most serious cases of deliberate offending I have seen. The defendant’s importation of unauthorised risk goods increased New Zealand’s exposure to exotic algae or marine pests, potentially placing export earnings at risk and creating the possibility of introducing yet another unwanted pest that could impact on our native flora and fauna.

“I have to say that it is frustrating and tiresome when you are responding to incidents where people needlessly and selfishly put the wellbeing of our country at risk. Some may argue that it is just some plants, but I would say that doesn’t stack up when you look at some of the biosecurity issues we have had to confront in recent times, like didymo, varroa, fire ants.”

Due to the severe risk to New Zealand’s biosecurity posed by the Mr Tan’s offending, MAF commissioned a delimiting survey to identify the plants and minimise the risks posed to New Zealand. The primary concern was a similar situation that has arisen from the introduction of Didymo to New Zealand’s South Island waterways.

Only plants listed in the MAF Import Health Standard for the importation of nursery stock are permitted entry into New Zealand. Mr Tan does not hold an Import Health Permit to import aquatic plants into New Zealand nor is his home an approved containment facility.

Ends

Issued by:

Helen Keyes, Senior Communications Adviser
Phone: 0-4-894 0161 or 0-29-894 0161
Email: helen.keyes@maf.govt.nz

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