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Smuggler says sorry

Repeka Nasiko
Tuesday, December 06, 2011

THIRTY-ONE year old German national Dirk Bender pleaded guilty to one count of exporting an endangered and protected species without a permit while appearing at the Lautoka Magistrates Court yesterday afternoon.

A first of its kind for Fiji, Mr Bender admitted to attempting to smuggle a pregnant Fiji Crested Iguana in a black knapsack on to Air Pacific flight FJ391 bound for Hong Kong.

In court yesterday, Assistant Superintendent of Police divisional prosecuting officer West SSP Anil Prasad revealed the summary of facts to Magistrate Sujeewa Nishsharka.

The court heard that on December 3 at around 8am at the Nadi International Airport, while checking into his flight for Hong Kong, a service agent was alerted by an advisory when Mr Bender's passport was swiped into the flight check in system.

Upon alerting her superiors of the advisory against Mr Bender, the service agent then asked if he was carrying any dangerous goods in his knapsack to which he said no.

After a quick search of his knapsack, Mr Bender was then handed his boarding pass for flight FJ391.

He then proceeded to international departures and cleared by security officers and then by the Immigration Primary line resulting in his passport being stamped.

However, he was stopped minutes after crossing the primary line by an immigration officer who was alerted by border police officers that the accused was suspected of smuggling a local iguana out of the country.

The officer then asked Mr Bender if he was carrying any plant or animal in his bag, to which the German replied no.

However, the immigration officer advised Mr Berger that she had reasons to believe that he was carrying something in his bag and for that he had to check his luggage. Mr Berger agreed to the check.

The court then heard that upon searching his black knapsack, the immigration officer found a live Crested Fiji Iguana packed inside a small black carry bag wrapped in a white wet cloth.

Mr Berger was then arrested and handed over to the border police.

While in police custody, Mr Berger was questioned and admitted that he had no permit to export the iguana out of Fiji.

He further stated that on November 28 this year, police had seized eight live iguanas from his hotel room and that the iguana was from the same lot that was taken by state officers.

He also admitted that he bought the iguanas from a Fijian man.

He said one iguana was left behind by the police and he kept it with him but forgot that he had it in his bag when he checked into the Nadi Airport.

Upon mitigation, Mr Berger said he was sorry and that he would never do it again.

He added he was willing to pay any fine that the court would impose on him.

Under the Endangered and Protected Species Act 2002, a person who contravenes the Act is liable to on conviction in the case of a first offence to a fine of $20,000.

Mr Berger will be remanded at the Natabua prison before his sentencing this afternoon.

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