Efforts failed to hide imported plant material

A judge told a woman she was lucky not to be put on the next flight back to India after she was caught smuggling food and plant material through Christchurch International Airport wrapped in carbon paper.

Christchurch District Court Judge David Saunders said 68-year-old Nilaben Jayantibhai Solanki’s behaviour had been “deceptive”.

Ministry for Primary Industries prosecutor Grant Fletcher said: “The use of carbon paper is a known method for wrapping illicit goods in the belief that it avoids detention by the x-ray scanning machines by distorting the image.”

Solanki, appearing in court with the help of an interpreter, admitted a charge of taking steps to conceal undeclared goods to hinder their detection.

She arrived on March 10 on a flight from Singapore, travelling on an Indian passport. On her arrival card she said she was bringing in food, but said she was not bringing in any plant or plant products, including seeds and bulbs.

Biosecurity officials found a packet of three different types of seeds, wrapped in carbon paper, in a zipped pocket of her handbag. In her luggage, were seven pickled Indian gooseberries wrapped in carbon paper, in the pocket of a pair of pants.

Similarly wrapped packages of tubers and seeds were found in the pocket of tracksuit pants and the zipped lining of the suitase.

Solanki said the seeds and tubers were intended as gifts for her son so that they could be planted and grown in New Zealand. Solanki lives in India and plans to leave New Zealand in August at the end of her six month visitor visa.

Mr Fletcher said: “The Ministry would normally be seeking a substantial sentence but given her age and visitor status, a fine is the only sensible sentencing option.”

Defence counsel Tom Stevens said Solanki said her husband in India had wrapped the items, so that they would not be noticed. She was extremely remorseful and he expected she would be much more careful in the future.

Judge Saunders said sending people who breached the rules immediately back to where they had come from would send a clear message. “She was most fortunate for immigration not to have cancelled her visa and sent her back immediately.”

Her actions had been deceptive. It was not like someone had overlooked an apple or a banana in their backpack, when they would face a $400 on-the-spot fine.

He fined Solanki $1600 after checking that she had family support in Christchurch and the fine would be paid within 28 days.

He said: “I hope she understands the potential consequences this may have caused to New Zealand had there been viruses or some spread of disease through what she did.”

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