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Joint Media Release


SENATOR THE HON. ROBERT HILL
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
&
SENATOR THE HON. CHRISTOPHER ELLISON
Minister for Justice and Customs

E159/01
24 July 2001

World-wide plant traffickers arrested


The arrest in the United States of six people, including one Australian, in connection with a world-wide plant smuggling operation, was announced today by Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Robert Hill and Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison.

Border and wildlife agencies from around the globe have joined to break an alleged multi-million dollar cycad and orchid smuggling operation with an investigation spanning the USA, Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service provided the Australian Customs Service and Environment Australia with a formal briefing of their operation. Those arrested are believed to be supplying and facilitating the world-wide smuggling of endangered plant species.

In addition to the US investigation, Australian Customs Service and Environment Australia have initiated further investigations into alleged offences committed in Australia. As part of ongoing inquiries Customs executed three search warrants in Queensland on Saturday, 21 July 2001.

"Criminals involved in wildlife smuggling are frequently involved in international syndicates, making the result from this long-term investigation a testament to the effective cooperation between Australian and overseas border and wildlife agencies," Senator Hill said.

Senator Ellison said Australian Customs Service cooperative efforts with international and local agencies to successfully undertake wildlife smuggling investigations were vital in saving Australia's flora and fauna resources from illicit exploitation.

"Australian Customs is known for its efforts in working with other agencies as well as its persistent and conscientious investigation of all forms of illegal activity at the border," Senator Ellison said.

According to Senator Hill, Australia has some of the most stringent legislation in the world to address illegal trade in Australian native wildlife and internationally endangered species, and the Government has recently strengthened this legislation.

"This Government is determined to enforce the legislation and continue close cooperation with overseas law enforcement agencies to combat wildlife crime," Senator Hill said.

Media Inquiries:
Senator Ellison - Donna Taylor 08/9328 3688 or 0409 240 254
Senator Hill - Belinda Huppatz 08/8237 7920 or 0419 258 364

Commonwealth of Australia