Two Western Australian pig farmers, involved in the smuggling of Danish pig semen hidden in shampoo bottles, have been jailed.
WA pork producer and managing director at GD Pork Torben Soerensen has been sentenced to three years in prison, and production manager, Henning Laue sentenced to two years’ jail, after pleading guilty to multiple charges of aiding the illegal importation of pig semen over several years.
Soerensen will be eligible for release after 18 months good behaviour, and Laue after eight months.
GD Pork has been fined $500,000, however the company is currently in liquidation.
Semen hidden in shampoo bottles
In sentencing,the Perth District Court heard Soerensen and Laue arranged for semen collected from Danish boars and smuggled it into Australia in passenger luggage, to be used for artificial insemination at a Pinjarra piggery.
As many as 199 sows were inseminated with the illegally imported semen, which was trafficked into Australia by Danish nationals and major shareholders in GD Pork.
Soerensen’s lawyer said his actions were “stupid” and, as sole proprietor of GD Pork, he had been the “front man” of a grand scheme carried out by Danish investors.
The court heard the architects of the systematic illegal importations were the major investors in GD Pork’s parent company, Pork Australia ApS, all of which are based in Denmark and beyond the reach of Australian laws.
The court also heard the criminal scheme operated between 2009 and 2017 and the majority of importations were carried out by Pork Australia ApS shareholder and Danish pork producer, Henrik Enderlein.
If the Danish men who actually transported the semen were in court, Judge Troy Sweeney said she would have given them longer sentences.
Soerensen became actively involved in the illegal operation from 2012 and, in some instances, carried out the artificial insemination at a breeding facility in Pinjarra.
In her sentencing statement, Judge Sweeney said Soerensen and Laue were “influenced to offend” by “persuasive” overseas investors.
However, she said the convicted men’s role in the breaches of Commonwealth biosecurity and quarantine laws were “too serious, too blatant, and too sustained” to ignore.
The court heard Laue, a Danish national, had advised on hiding the semen in shampoo and hand lotion bottles in a bid to avoid questioning and detection by quarantine officials.
Prosecutor Jackie Stewart said it was “fanciful” to suggest Laue, who had moved to WA from Denmark to work for GD Pork in early 2014, was initially unaware of the semen racket.
The court heard Soerensen intended to concoct stories to tell the broader industry in case their competitive advantaged was noticed.
Following sentencing, Australian Pork Limited chief executive Margo Andrae described the illegal importation of semen as a “shocking violation of trust”.
Since 1995, no permit to import pig genetics has been granted because of the biosecurity risk.
Danish pig genetics are more fertile and productive than Australian genetics, with Danish sows averaging 32 weaned piglets per year, compared to the Australian average of 26 piglets per year.
Authorities were tipped off about the semen syndicate in February 2017.
The men were then charged following an investigation by the Agriculture Department that uncovered a string of emails detailing plans for the delivery of “special semen” or “special merchandise”.
Investigators confirmed the presence of illegal genetics after seizing hair samples from 100 pigs, and verifying their genetics with the Pig Research Centre in Denmark.
One of the main biosecurity concerns was the potential spread of the debilitating viral disease Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, which has since not been detected on any of GD Pork’s farms.
The sentence comes amid fears African Swine Fever, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of pigs in China, could jeopardise Australia’s $5.3 billion pork industry, and an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease would cost Australia’s animal industries $50 billion.
The illegal semen spawned more than 2,000 piglets in Australia.
Testing by the Agriculture Department has found no traces of exotic disease.
GD Pork, which had piggeries at Kojunup, Pinjarra and Australind, was considered one of WA’s largest pork producers before Danish investors withdrew their investment soon after the charges were laid.
In September 2018, GD Pork went into administration and later, liquidation.
It was acquired by Westpork in January.
Westpork now holds a 45 per cent share of WA’s pig producing market.
It is understood the pigs with the Danish genetics are not required to be slaughtered as they were found to be free of exotic illnesses.