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Two people prosecuted for making false declaration

8 March 2001

Two people prosecuted for making false declarations

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has prosecuted two people this month for making false quarantine declarations at the border.

Auckland woman Maria Fatima Foo Chong was charged with making a false declaration and attempting to possess unauthorised goods (guava, mangoes and plant material) at the Manukau District Court on March 2. One of the fruit smuggled in was found to contain five live fruit fly larvae and live ants of a species unknown in New Zealand, when examined by a MAF Quarantine Officer.

Christchurch woman Manuela Camelia Raizis was charged with making a false declaration relating to various food products. She was fined $750 and ordered to pay $130 cost and $250 in solicitor fees.

The Biosecurity Act 1993 requires declarations to be made by people entering New Zealand. Meat and meat products, fruit, vegetables and plant material must have prior clearance from MAF before entering the country.

Clearance is necessary to protect against the introduction of unwanted pests and diseases that could seriously hurt our horticulture and livestock industries.

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease could seriously affect New Zealand’s livestock industry. It could result in our overseas trading partners instigating an immediate ban on importing New Zealand animal and animal products. The same ban would be applied to our horticulture industries if another fruit fly outbreak occurred here.

This could have a disastrous affect on the New Zealand economy, which rely on these commodities.

Foo Chong was convicted and fined $250 for making a false declaration, plus another $500 for attempting to possess unauthorised goods.

She entered New Zealand at Auckland International Airport from Apia, Samoa on 21 September 2000.

She completed and signed her declaration form, ticking no to every question including whether she had plants and plant materials or fruit with her. She went through ‘nothing to declare’. When asked if she had any food or fruit by the Quarantine Officer, she answered no. She was directed to have her luggage x-rayed. Fruit was found in three of the defendant’s five bags.

A large guava, eight mangoes and the equivalent of six sundried cut mangoes were found in different bags, hidden in different ways. Inside a plastic container was a rooted plant similar to an orchid wrapped in tin foil.

When asked what she would do with the plant, Foo Chong replied “plant it. "She also said she thought she could get away with smuggling the fruit in.

Following standard procedures, all the fruit and plant material was examined. The guava contained five live fruit fly larvae and live ants of a species unknown in New Zealand. The seized goods were destroyed.

Manuela Camelia Raizis ticked no to all the agriculture questions on her declaration form, as well as her mother’s form, when she arrived at Christchurch International Airport on 23 August 2000.

A Quarantine Detector dog located food in her luggage. Raizis told a Quarantine Officer that there was food in her bag, but that it was acceptable as it was packaged. The Officer marked the declaration form to have a full search of luggage.

Searching found grated cheese, feta cheese, 3kgs of honey, a 670 gram slab of cured pork, Turkish Delight, olives, polenta and pasta.

Raizis when asked said she knew and understood the declaration form.

Section 30(1)(a) of the Biosecurity Act 1993 requires people arriving in New Zealand to make specific declarations for any agricultural goods in their possession as part of their personal effects or baggage.

At New Zealand international airports incoming passengers are required by MAF to answer verbal questions about agricultural matters and to complete a New Zealand Passenger Arrival Card. This includes a section on agriculture requiring the passenger to indicate whether or not they are bringing into New Zealand various specified items.

Answers to these questions may lead to further inspection. When this declaration is handed to an inspector the consideration takes place and the goods contained within the baggage may be cleared at that point or forwarded for x-ray or search and clearance.

Passengers have the following opportunities to declare or dispose of their goods prior to entering New Zealand:

1. Prior to arrival air passengers are either shown a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Information Video or hear an announcement made over the plane's public address system detailing penalties for not declaring food, fruit, plants, meat and animal products.

2. Exposed to notice on baggage carousel in passenger arrival hall detailing penalties for not declaring fruit, meat, plants and animal products, before collecting their baggage.

3. Exposed to operation of MAF Detector Dogs and Handlers roving and identifying suspect luggage for agricultural risk items.

4. Amnesty bins are provided in passenger arrival hall for disposal of any "last minute" items.

5. Opportunity to choose to go through the red (dutiable/agricultural) items to declare or green (no risk goods) exits.

6. If the green exit is chosen there is the opportunity to speak to a Quarantine Officer on any issue the passenger may remain unclear about.

For further information contact Jacqui Pate, Senior Investigating Solicitor, MAF Enforcement Unit. Telephone: 09-357-6472

Or Gita Parsot, MAF Communications. Telephone: 04-498-9806

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