Mr Stephen Morton, of Twyford based seed supplier Herbiseed Ltd, pleaded guilty to the production and use of forged phytosanitary certificates for seed export purposes at Reading Crown Court following a successful prosecution by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
The defendant received 3 concurrent prison sentences, suspended for 2 years, ranging from 12 to 24 months, and was ordered to undertake 300 hours unpaid community work.
At a separate confiscation hearing on 29 July 2015, a confiscation order was made for just over £100,000 to be paid within three months. The penalty for non-payment is a 24-month prison sentence.
Phytosanitary certificates are official documents that are usually required when exporting plants and plant material (including seed) to a country outside the EU. They are produced to recognised international standards to reassure importers that plant material has been inspected and found to be free of potentially damaging pests and diseases.
Commenting on the outcome of the case, Mr Kelvin Hughes, Chief Plant Health and Seeds Inspector at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said:
The extent of the sentence received by Mr Morton reflects the serious nature of these offences. The use of fraudulent phytosanitary certificates could lead to damage to the importing country’s economy, agriculture and environment if plant pests or disease were present the imported goods, and could also damage associated UK trade with that country.
By forging these certificates Mr Morton attempted to gain an advantage in both time and cost over compliant competitors.
Our Plant Health and Seeds Inspectors work very closely with National Plant Protection Organisations in other countries and the success of this prosecution demonstrates that we have robust systems in place to help prevent and detect such fraudulent activities.
Mr Morton was charged with 2 counts under the Fraud Act 2006 and one count under the Forgery & Counterfeiting Act 1981, relating to the forgery of 38 phytosanitary certificates for seed exports to Japan and the USA.