Kiwifruit smuggler ordered to pay Zespri $8.5M after unsuccessful appeal
A kiwifruit smuggler who took cuttings of Zespri’s SunGold variety to China has been ordered to pay the kiwifruit exporter more than NZ$12 million (US$8.5 million) after an unsuccessful appeal.
Haoyu Gao, a former grower, was last year ordered by the High Court to pay Zespri almost $15m for taking the cuttings to China after signing a supposed licensing agreement with a grower there, website Stuff reports.
Zespri claimed Gao’s agreement to supply the cuttings was an infringement of its rights under the Plant Varieties Rights Act.
Gao appealed the High Court ruling and, in a judgment released on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal reduced the damages to be paid by Gao from $14.9 million to $12.1 million.
The reduction in damages related to the inexact measurement of the Chinese orchards involved.
Zespri engaged private investigators to identify the five Chinese orchards which planted its G3 and G9 varieties.
Senior staff travelled to China to confirm the findings, after which police searched Gao's home and computers for evidence of the smuggling.
Gao claimed he had signed a so-called False Licensing Agreement supplied to him by an associate in China, Changqing Shu, but got cold feet and did not take any of the gold kiwifruit varieties to China.
However, Justice Katz ruled in favour of Zespri on all three of the charges it brought against Gao, Xue and their company.
In her ruling, she described Gao as a “very unimpressive witness,” who “revealed himself to be a person who lacks a moral compass and does not place a high value on honesty”.