Plant smuggler sentenced to intensive supervision and community work

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A woman who attempted to smuggle nearly 1000 succulents and endangered cacti into New Zealand has been sentenced in court.

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The woman was noticed by a detector dog at Auckland International Airport (file image). Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Wenqing (Wendy) Li, 38, pleaded guilty to charges related to two separate incidents at Auckland International Airport.

Li was sentenced in the Manukau District Court yesterday to 12 months’ intensive supervision and 100 hours’ community work.

On 24 March 2019, Li – a seller and trader of succulents and cacti on Trade Me – strapped stockings containing 947 succulents and cacti on to her body and attempted to smuggle them into the country on her return from China.

After being noticed by a detector dog, Li tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her offending by disposing of items in the airport toilets.

The cacti included eight endangered and threatened species. The plants were worth more than $10,000.

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In a separate offending on 23 July 2019, Li was found in possession of 142 unauthorised seeds that were hidden in two commercially packaged iPad covers in her luggage.

More than 200 plant pots were also discovered as well as garden ornaments wrapped in mouldy wet paper.

The plant pots were also found to contain a snail and two pieces of tree fern stem.

MPI regional team manager of compliance investigations north Simon Anderson said most people did the right thing when it came to biosecurity at the border.

“This sentencing serves as a good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted,” Anderson said.

“It’s important to remember that bringing unauthorised plants into the country by any method, whether smuggling through the border in person or receiving products by mail, puts New Zealand’s biosecurity at risk.”

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