The director of an Australian export company was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of six months for his role in attempting to conceal the production of fraudulent documents relating to the mandatory fumigation of an export commodity—a crime that had been undertaken by the company for many years before he became aware of it.
Thomas Woods was a director of Woods Grain Pty Ltd, which bought grain from local producers and stored it in silos before packing and selling it on behalf of exporters.
Between 2007 and 2009, the company packed chickpeas for export to India and Bangladesh on behalf of six commodity traders. Exports to India must be fumigated with methyl bromide, with Bangladeshi requirements varied. In order to export the commodity, the process involved presenting either a fumigation or clearance certificate to the Department of Agriculture to issue a phytosantitary certificate clearing the chickpeas for export.
As Australia is a signatory to the International Plant Protection Convention which aims to protect cultivated and wild plants by preventing the introduction and spread of pests—grains cannot be exported without appropriate procedures verifying the health of the grains, their fumigation and inspection.
In 2009, the Department of Agriculture commenced an investigation into the fumigation practices of Woods Grain. The investigation revealed the company had engaged Reardon, a licenced fumigator, in 2004 to perform fumigation with phosphine. In late 2006 Reardon was asked to sign blank forms containing only his name and licence number. Woods Grain used these forms to create certificates to verify phosphine fumigations. In 2007, the blank signed forms were then used to create fumigation and/or clearance certificates claiming the chickpeas bound for India and Bangladesh had been fumigated with methyl bromide. The company submitted the forms to the Department of Agriculture knowing they were false and would result in the issue of a phytosantitary certificate. Throughout the offending Woods Grain invoiced the commodity traders for the cost of the unperformed fumigations with methyl bromide.
At the end of 2008 director, Thomas Woods, became aware that methyl bromide was not being used to fumigate chickpeas as required. The investigation found Woods failed to prevent the company from continuing to offend, he instead attempted to conceal it buying methyl bromide and a vaporiser and seeking advice from Reardon about how to empty the fumigant canisters in case of an audit.
Charges and sentence
Woods Grain Pty Ltd was convicted and sentenced on 31 July 2015 with:
- 68 counts of influencing a Commonwealth public official between 26 October 2007 and 10 October 2009.
Woods pleaded guilty to:
- 16 counts of influencing a Commonwealth public official (s.135.1(7)Criminal Code (Cth)) between 6 January 2009 and 10 October 2009, relating to false clearance certificates.
At sentencing, the judge took into account the early plea by Woods and the timely plea by the company. However, the judge held that general deterrence was a dominant consideration in sentencing.
Woods sentence of 18 months imprisonment, to be released after serving six months, was subject to entering into a recognizance of $1000 and being of good behaviour for two years. Woods Grain Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $680,000 ($10,000 per offence), with 17 months to pay.