Smuggle fail: Trade Me seller caught with nearly 1k illegal cacti and succulents strapped to body

An Auckland woman has been sentenced to 12 months of intensive supervision and 100 hours’ community work after attempting to smuggle nearly 1000 succulents and endangered cacti strapped to her body into the country.

Wenqing Li, also known as Wendy, was sentenced in the Manukau District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to charges related to two separate incidents at the Auckland International Airport, the Ministry for Primary Industries revealed today in a press release.

Judge Richard McIlraith took a sentencing starting point of 15 months imprisonment.

The 38-year-old was a seller and trader of succulents and cacti on Trade Me when, in March 2019, she strapped stockings containing 947 succulents and cacti worth over $10,000 on to her body and attempted to smuggle them into New Zealand from China. The cacti included eight endangered and threatened species.

After being noticed by a detector dog, Li tried unsuccessfully to hide her offending by disposing of the plants in the airport toilets.

Ministry for Primary Industries officers prevented the evidence from being destroyed and conducted a full search of the toilet area, where they discovered a large amount of plant material, including three stockings filled with succulents and cacti in one of the rubbish bins inside the men’s toilet, said MPI regional team manager for compliance investigations north Simon Anderson.

In a separate incident in July 2019, Li was found to be in possession of 142 unauthorised seeds hidden in two commercially packaged iPad covers in her luggage, as well as over 200 plant pots and garden ornaments wrapped in mouldy wet paper. The plant pots were also found to contain a snail and two pieces of tree fern stem.

Anderson said today's sentencing serves as a "good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted".

“It’s important to remember that bringing unauthorised plants into the country by any method, whether smuggling through the border in person or receiving products by mail, puts New Zealand’s biosecurity at risk,” he said. 

Anderson said Biosecurity NZ "takes its role of protecting New Zealand from biosecurity threats very seriously", adding that New Zealand is "fortunate to be free of many of the invasive pests and diseases found in other countries". 

"Our economy and way of life is dependent on keeping these threats out of the country."