Couple jailed over illegal attempted export of exotic Australian animals
Name: Zheyuan QIU and Ut Lei LEI
Date of Judgment: 17 February 2021
Practice Group: IASA
Court: District Court of NSW
Partner Agency: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE)
Summary of charges:
Zheyuan Qiu and Ut Lei Lei plead guilty to 19 and 14 offences respectively relating to the attempted exportation of Australian wildlife via the postal service contrary to the Criminal Code (Cth) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
Between November 2018 and January 2020 the abovenamed attempted to export a total of 46 regulated live specimens without a permit. The offending involved the posting of 17 discreet parcels from various post offices located in Sydney. The parcels contained carpet pythons, shingleback lizards, skinks and water dragons which were concealed within various, ostensibly innocent, goods such as microphones, speakers and toy trucks. On two occasions, the specimens were located inside stockings or socks, with their limbs taped together with sticky tape. On one occasion, the offender Qiu attempted to send a red-bellied black snake within a speaker. The specimens were intended to be sent to addresses in Hong Kong or Taiwan but were intercepted by officers from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE).
The possession offences comprised of charges that encompassed 105 exotic specimens seized by investigators during the execution of search warrants at the offenders’ residence in January 2020. Specimens were located in every room of the unit, except for the bathroom. Offender Qiu admitted that the native and exotic specimens located at his residence were his collection. Offender Lei admitted she occasionally cared for the specimens by feeding them. The offenders possessed specimens that are categorised by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as appendix I, II and III specimens. These included exotic turtles, frogs and snakes.
The international illegal wildlife trade is lucrative and poses a serious environmental and biosecurity risk to Australia.
The offending was objectively serious, spanning a period of 14 months and was planned and sophisticated. Ms Lei’s role was subordinate to Mr Qiu’s. The offenders made deliberate efforts to avoid detection by travelling to different post offices in Sydney to lodge the parcels, using false consigner details concealing their identities and falsely declaring the contents of the parcels. It was accepted by the Court that the offending was motivated by financial gain and was commercial in nature. The offenders were indifferent to the undue cruelty involved. Some animals were harmed and there was potential for all animals to be harmed.
In sentencing, the sentencing Judge noted:
- that the offences were of great seriousness and concern to the public which was reflected in the maximum penalty
- the importance of general deterrence as a sentencing consideration
- offending of this nature is difficult to detect
- the plunder of Australian wildlife is likely to arouse great anger in the community
- offenders must come to expect sentences of imprisonment.
His Honour found that both offenders were remorseful, were at low risk of reoffending and had good prospects of rehabilitation. They were both allowed a 25 per cent discount in sentence for their early pleas. His Honour imposed aggregate sentences (under s 53A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW)).
Qui was sentenced to five years imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years, 10 months.
His Honour found that Ms Lei was in a special category for a combination of the following reasons:
- It was an agreed fact that she was at all times acting at her husband’s direction.
- His Honour accepted that to some extent, she felt vulnerable in her relationship which may have contributed to her offending.
- There was psychological evidence in relation to a sentence of full-time custody.
- Whether or not there would be somebody in Australia to look after her child is “very much an unknown factor” in light of the current pandemic.
Ms Lei was sentenced to two years, 10 months imprisonment to be served by way of intensive corrections order with the condition that she must not commit any further offence, must submit to the direction and supervision of the Community Corrections Office and must report to Community Corrections at Parramatta by 19 February 2021.