Kerry’s vet says leaving animal medicine in her suitcase was the ‘worst decision of my life’
A County Kerry-based vet has failed in his appeal against his conviction for importing animal remedies without proper authorisation.
Hendrik Willem Offereins, of Lissyclearig, Kenmare, was convicted in the District Court in July 2017 after pleading guilty to nine summonses from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine.
All charges related to unauthorized animal remedies imported from outside the EU at Dublin Airport on January 15, 2015.
The legislation involved European Communities regulations on the control of animal remedies, the “de novo” hearing heard at Tralee Circuit Court.
The appeal to Tralee Circuit Court lasted almost two full days and 10 witnesses were heard.
A scan of a lost bag that arrived at Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport in January 2015 showed potentially prohibited goods, the court heard. The lost luggage is still being scanned and the bag has been detained and handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture, a customs officer told the Circuit Court. All bottles were labeled with product names.
Expert witness Dr Caroline Garvin of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine explained that stanozolol was “an illegal performance enhancer” to increase horse muscle so a horse could run faster, and that it had been banned since 2009. She described how methocarbomal was not an authorized veterinary drug “so we cannot guarantee its safety”.
Cross-examined by James McGowan SC, Dr Garvin agreed that there were versions of some of the products on the summonses that were allowed here.
Mr Offereins, a Dutch national with a veterinary business in Kenmare since 2005, has no previous convictions, the appeal to the Circuit Court has been heard.
He never intended to import the remedies or use them in Ireland, he told the court.
He had returned from Kuwait where he had treated horses belonging to the royal family in January 2015 with remedies he had purchased in Kuwait for use there. He put them in his luggage because he said he had no way to get rid of them and he was under pressure. They were seized by customs officers at Dublin Airport and handed over to Department of Agriculture inspectors after his luggage was lost.
A graduate of Utrecht University, specializing in the management of soft tissue problems and animal management, Dr. Offereins has also practiced in South Africa and the Netherlands. He was not involved in horse racing.
He had pleaded guilty to the summonses in 2017 in district court after being led to believe the consequences would be far less than they were, he said. But he was not a lawyer and he had underestimated the question.
There had been ‘massive consequences’ for his practice and credibility, he told agriculture minister Shane O’Callaghan when asked why he had pleaded guilty.
“In hindsight, I made the wrong decision and that’s why I appealed,” he said.
He never intended to import the substances for use in Ireland, he insisted.
He said January 15, 2015 was an eventful day for him. He had been under pressure in Kuwait after being asked to go and tend to a number of horses at a second royal family facility in the desert before boarding his flight, he told senior solicitor James McGowan , in defense.
He was given no opportunity to get rid of the drugs, which he knew were banned in Ireland, and decided to leave them in his red suitcase with other personal effects and speak to customs when he arrived in Dublin Airport.
However, his bag did not arrive with him and he was unable to speak to a customs officer. He filled out what he thought was a missing baggage form – which was actually a customs declaration – and answered no to the controlled substances question.
The decision to leave the various small vials of remedies in its case was “the worst decision of my life”, he also said.
He never intended to use the drugs in Ireland, he had purchased them in Kuwait and intended to use them only in Kuwait. Alternatives to labeled products were available in Ireland or could be requested under licence, Dr Offereins also said.
At sentencing, Mr McGowan, arguing for mitigation, pointed out that Dr Offereins had no intention of importing the remedies, but had no means to dispose of them. Dr. Offereins was a married man with three children, two of whom were in college and one was 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 handed down convictions on three citations, taking all six into account, and handed down fines totaling €6,000. He also granted the State’s request for costs and ordered the payment of the sum of €5,000.