The two Czech men who attempted to smuggle native orchids out of New Zealand have avoided jail, but have found themselves saddled with “hefty” fines of $7500 plus court costs.
My first reaction was that the fines are not particularly “hefty”, but consider this: One, a cardiologist and university dean, makes $39,000 a year in his native Czechoslovakia and has savings of $9000. The other, a Czech Government environmental protection agency inspector and Orchid society president (can you believe it??) earns $24,000 and has savings of $8000. Remind me not to seek my fortunes in Czechoslovakia.
Though one would assume from their careers that they possess a certain degree of smarts, it turns out that these two arrogant and bumbling idiots are not the brightest light bulbs in the pack:
“Before they arrived in New Zealand they had sent the DoC (Department of Conservation) an e-mail outlining their trip and asking permission to take the orchids. That request was refused and to take the plants after that was a deliberate act. “
No means no, fellas! But it was nice of you to announce your intentions — the natural world would be much easier to defend if all poachers were as accommodating.
Heavy fine for orchid pilferers a strong message says DOC
Heavy fines for two Czech men who tried to “pilfer” New Zealand native plants out of the country, sent a very strong message to the international community a Department of Conservation investigator said today.
The two men, cardiologist Cestmir Cihalik, 54, Czech Government environmental protection agency inspector, Jindrich Smitak, 60, were caught with a large haul of native plants, including orchids, as they tried to leave from Auckland airport in January.
It was the first time anyone had been charged with trading in threatened New Zealand orchids.
They appeared in the Manukau District Court today for sentencing but received a heavy fine and not the prison sentence sought as an international deterrent by DoC prosecutor Mike Bodie.
However, Judge Sharon McAuslan said it would be wrong to discharge the two men without conviction as sought by their lawyer Colleen Newton.
She ordered the two men to be held in custody until their $7500 fine had been paid and said if it was not paid immediately they would serve 21 days in prison.
They were also ordered to pay $1000 towards the cost of the DoC prosecution and $130 in court costs.
Cihalik had 40 plants in his luggage, comprising 15 native orchid species, and Smitak had 18 species of native orchids, comprising 43 individual plants.
The judge accepted submissions from Ms Newton the two men were keen amateur botanists and their trip to New Zealand was a scientific trip and they did not take the plants, all protected under the Trade in
Endangered Species Act, for commercial gain.
However, outside court, DoC investigator Toni Twyford, said the men knew what they were doing and knew they should not have taken the plants.
Before they arrived in New Zealand they had sent DoC an e-mail outlining their trip and asking permission to take the orchids. That request was refused and to take the plants after that was a deliberate act.
Mr Twyford would not comment on the techniques used to track the men before they were arrested.
“It would be fair to say we kept an eye on their movements to a certain extent. How much we did that I wouldn’t like to make any further comment on.”
Not would Mr Twyford say if the men were actually seen taking any plants nor if DoC had intelligence from overseas agencies about their activities before they came to New Zealand and were arrested.
During today’s sentencing Mr Bodie said although the orchids were relatively common in New Zealand and were not rare or endangered, they were endemic to New Zealand and in danger from people.
He submitted both men had a carefully prepared, premeditated plan to take the plants out of the country.
He said a prison term was the most effective deterrent.
“We may take them for granted but for a European collector it is a long way to come for a so-called common orchid,” he told the court.
He said to remove plants from national parks was “unacceptable for New Zealanders let alone foreign visitors to our shores”.
Ms Newton said the to men had suffered because of the publicity in New Zealand, in their home country. They had cooperated with the authorities and had pleaded guilty although they had originally not intended to do anything wrong.
Cihalik earned $39,000 a year in his native Czech Republic and had savings of $9000. Smitak earned $24,000 and had savings of $8000. The savings of both men was available to the New Zealand courts, Ms Newton
The judge said deterrence must be a significant part of the sentence but mitigating factors included their guilty pleas, that it was a scientific and academic trip and not done for commercial gain. She said because of that a financial penalty and not a jail term was appropriate.
Smitak also faced three charges of taking plants from the Mt Aspiring, Nelson Lakes and Fiordland national parks and was convicted and discharged.