A veterinary surgeon based in Co Kerry has failed in his appeal against conviction for importing animal remedies without proper authorization.
Hendrik Willem Offereins, of Lissyclearig, Kenmare, was convicted in the District Court in July 2017 after pleading guilty to nine summonses brought by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
All of the charges related to unauthorized animal remedies imported from outside the EU at Dublin Airport on January 15th, 2015.
The legislation involved European Communities Regulations on the control of animal remedies, the “de novo” hearing heard at the Circuit Court in Tralee.
The appeal at Tralee Circuit Court took almost two full days and 10 witnesses were heard.
A scan of a lost bag which arrived into Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport in January 2015 showed potentially prohibited products, the court heard. Lost luggage is always scanned and the bag was detained and handed to the Department of Agriculture, a customs officer told the Circuit Court. All the bottles were labeled with the products’ names.
Expert witness Dr Caroline Garvin, with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, told how Stanozolol was “an illegal performance enhancer” for increasing horse muscle so a horse would run faster, and it had been prohibited since 2009. She described how methocarbomal was not an authorized veterinary medicine “so we cannot ensure its safety”.
Under cross-examination by James McGowan SC, Dr Garvin agreed that there were versions of some of the products on the summonses which were authorized here.
Mr Offereins, a Dutch national with a veterinary business in Kenmare since 2005, has heard no previous convictions, the appeal to the Circuit Court.
He never intended to import the remedies or to use them in Ireland, he told the court.
He had been returning from Kuwait where he had been treating horses belonging to the royal family in January 2015 with remedies he purchased in Kuwait for use there. He put them in his luggage because he said he had no means to dispose of them, and was under pressure. They were seized by customs officials at Dublin Airport and handed to Department of Agriculture inspectors after his luggage became lost.
A graduate of the university of Utrecht, who specialized in management of soft tissue issues and animal management, Dr Offereins also practiced in South Africa and Holland. He wasn’t involved in horse racing.
He had pleaded guilty to the summonses in 2017 in the District Court after being led to believe the consequences would be far less than they were, he said. But he was not a legal expert and he had underestimated the matter.
There had been “massive consequences” for his practice and his credibility, he told prosecuting counsel Shane O’Callaghan, for the Minister for Agriculture, when questioned why he had entered a guilty plea.
“On hindsight, I made the wrong decision and that is why I appealed,” he said.
He never intended to import the substances for use in Ireland, he insisted.
He said January 15th, 2015, had been a hectic day for him. He had been under pressure in Kuwait after being asked to go to treat a number of horses at a second facility owned by the royal family in the desert before catching his flight, he outlined to Senior Counsel James McGowan, defending.
He had no opportunity of disposing of the medicines, which he knew were prohibited in Ireland, and decided to leave them in his red suitcase with other personal materials and to speak to customs when he arrived at Dublin Airport.
However, his bag did not arrive with him and he did not get to speak to a customs officer. He filled out what he thought was a missing luggage form – which was in fact a customs declaration – and answered no to the question on restricted substances.
The decision to leave the various small bottles of remedies in his case was “the worst decision of my life”, he also said.
He never intended to use the medicines in Ireland, he had purchased them in Kuwait and intended to use them only in Kuwait. Alternatives for the labeled products were available in Ireland or could be applied for under license, Dr Offereins also said.
At sentencing, Mr McGowan, pleading for mitigation, stressed how Dr Offereins had not intended to import the remedies, but had not had the means to dispose of them. Dr Offereins was a married man with three children, two of whom were in college and with one doing Leaving Cert. He had a house with a mortgage and a business and his income in the last tax year was €80,000.
Judge Daly imposed convictions on three summonses, taking the six into consideration, and imposed total fines of €6,000. He also granted the State’s application for money towards its costs, and ordered a sum of €5,000 to be paid.