Fishing firm guilty of fraud over catch stats

Last updated 13:12 13/11/2012

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An Invercargill fishing company and one of its directors have been found guilty of a string of fraudulent catch declarations amounting to $954,000.

The Ministry of Primary Industries prosecuted Karaka Fishing Ltd and its former director Martin Nepia on six charges of filing false returns with its catch tracking service FishServe, from 2010-2011.

The prosecution, which was first filed in January, went before Judge Kevin Phillips in Invercargill District Court yesterday.

Nepia opted to defend himself against the charges, while Karaka did not send a representative to the hearing.

Nepia claimed he had no control over the information filed to FishServe.

Judge Phillips told him making false statements in this way was a crime of strict liability, and his only defence would be to show he had taken all possible steps to ensure the information was accurate.

Ministry lawyer Leonie Matahaere produced more than 100 exhibits showing Nepia had signed off monthly catch returns which were later shown to be false by cross-checking with the amounts of fish the company had been selling.

By failing to declare how much its boats had actually caught, the company was able to avoid paying for its Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) quota obligations with the ministry, which totalled $954,000, Mrs Matahaere said.

Two fisheries officers also gave evidence against Nepia and Karaka.

Nepia changed his plea to guilty at the conclusion of the prosecution case.

Judge Phillips said he had no doubt the figures collected by the ministry, showing the extent of Karaka's evasion, were correct.

The company clearly had an attitude of "get in and do the fishing, get out and not pay anybody anything", he said.

Nepia and Karaka will be sentenced on November 30.

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- The Southland Times

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