Tabbouleh salads cost job

A Jetstar New Zealand flight attendant resigned his job after failing to declare four packaged lentil and tabbouleh salad airline meals he brought into Christchurch International Airport off his flight from Melbourne.

Dayvson William De Sousa Guedes, a 35-year-old flight attendant from Ilam, had admitted providing an official with false, misleading, or incomplete information about uncleared goods – four packages of lentil and tabbouleh salad.

The salads had been prepared and packaged in Christchurch, but had then made a return flights to Australia. When Guedes failed to declare them – and lied about them – the Ministry of Primary Industries decided to prosecute him for a Biosecurity Act breach rather than issue a $400 infingement notice.

Defence counsel Craig Ruane told Guedes’ Christchurch District Court sentencing that his client had resigned from Jetstar rather than be dismissed, but he sought a discharge without conviction because of the effect on employment prospects. He was now working as a fitness trainer in Christchurch but had applied to another airline.

Judge Alistair Garland said that in any case, Guedes would have to tell employers about his offending.

MPI prosecutor Grant Fletcher said: “This is about telling lies to a biosecurity official when you have an absolute obligation to tell the truth.”

He said the Ministry accepted that in this case the biosecurity risk was negligible because the salads were prepared in New Zealand and had remained sealed during the trip. But he said it was important for the Ministry and the courts to uphold the principle of protecting the country’s biosecurity.

Guedes arrived at Christchurch Airport about 2.30pm on April 7, 2018, as a flight attendant on a Jetstar New Zealand service from Melbourne.

He went into the biosecurity controlled area carrying a small overnight bag – his only luggage.

He signed an Aircrew Declaration arrival card, indicating that he was bringing in food.

When the quarantine officer asked him about it, he replied, “Cereal and crackers”, which he had written on the declaration card. He said he had nothing else to declare.

Usually when cabin crew declare non-risk goods they are sent straight to the exit row, but because it was quiet the quarantine officer sent Guedes to the row for an x-ray check on his bag.

As Guedes walked to the x-ray machine he stopped and added the word “salad” to the declaration card.

An MPI detector dog then indicated Guedes was carrying fresh food items, and four pre-packed Jetstar New Zealand salad meals were found in the bag.

“These are risk goods and not allowed into New Zealand unless a clearance is given,” said Mr Fletcher.

Guedes claimed that he had written “salad” on the arrival card before he had been spoken to. He also said he had forgotten to declare the salad and was not feeling well.

When interviewed a month later, he said he had bought the salads at a local store in Christchurch and had taken them onto the plane to consume on board. That statement was also false. Inquiries with Jetstar and the salad manufacturers indicated that the salads were from the aircraft and were unlawfully removed from the plane by Guedes, Mr Fletcher said.

He told the judge: “Illegally and accidentally introduced organisms can have major consequences for the natural environment and the primary production sector of the economy.

“Recent biosecurity breaches have had huge impacts on New Zealand businesses, the wider economy, and the natural environment.

“For example, the total cost of the response to the PSA kiwifruit disease for the kiwifruit industry has been estimated at between $740m and $885m over a 15-year period, while the estimated economic impact of the bee Varroa mite is now estimated to be between $400m and $900m over a 35-year period.

“The black seed spill in Canterbury has led to a three-to-five-year monitoring programme to ensure that the seed species does not establish itself along the spill route, with an initial clean-up cost of $300,000.”

Judge Garland said a discharge could be granted where the direct and indirect consequences of the conviction would be out of proportion with the gravity of the offence.

He said that because Guedes was an aircrew member he was aware of the importance of the law, and the need for complete honesty. He said Guedes had repeatedly provided false and misleading information to biosecurity officials.

It was the dishonesty with biosecurity officials which was most likely to influence future employers.

He convicted Guedes and fined him $1000.