Fraud in wine export certificates admitted

An Auckland woman who has admitted her role in falsifying wine export applications is opposing suppression for the five wineries involved.

The wineries were granted interim suppression today but the issue will have to be argued at the sentencing in December.

Counsel for the five wineries, Nic Soper of Queenstown, said he was surprised by the defendant’s opposition to the suppression order. He said the defence seemed to think, “If his client’s going down he wants to drag as many people down as he can.”

The woman’s defence counsel, Andrew Riches, denied that. He said there had been “co-operation” between the woman and the wineries involved, and the summary of facts said both parties had benefitted from the filing of the false wine export applications.

Mr Soper said he understood that no prosecution of the wineries was being considered at present.

Joyce Mary Frances Austin, 55, of Kohimarama, pleaded guilty to one representative charge in the Christchurch District Court today.

She was remanded at large – no bail was required – for sentencing in the Auckland District Court on December 21.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen did not enter a conviction because Mr Riches said he would seek a discharge without conviction for Austin.

Austin has admitted a charge of “procuring others to make false applications” with intent to deceive, for the purpose of obtaining a benefit.

The charge under the Wine Act 2003 has been brought by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Prosecutor Grant Fletcher said Austin had procured staff in five wineries to make 13 Wine Export Applications that listed for export 44.5 cases of wine under the names of varieties and vintages that had Export Eligibility Approval.

In fact, those listed cases of wine were not the wines that Austin’s company, New Zealand Boutique Wines Ltd, was exporting.

Mr Fletcher said the duties imposed on wine exporters sought to facilitate entry into overseas markets through control mechanisms and safeguard the New Zealand wine industry’s market reputation.

He said Austin was the sole director and employee of New Zealand Boutique Wines, which began operations in 2002, predominantly exporting New Zealand wines and beer to Ireland, which has been a European Union member country since 1973.

MPI alleges the offences took place between March 2013 and May 2014. Austin exported just under 3500 cases of wine during that period, and procured the submission of false wine export applications for 44.5 cases of wine.

Most of the 44.5 cases were not sold for a profit once exported, but were used as samples at sales events and for promotional purposes in Ireland.

The net profit to New Zealand Boutique Wines from the wine referred to in the charges, if they had been sold at retail value, was under $1450.

The prosecution is the first one of its kind under the Wine Act and the court was told the case was being closely watched. Written submissions will be filed ahead of the sentencing.


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