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Man in kiwifruit smuggling case named

Kiwifruit exporter Zespri now claims that Opotiki grower Haoyu Gao, who it accuses of smuggling highly valuable kiwi gold fruit plants to China, may have also taken them to Australia.

Permission to give out Gao's name to the press was given by Justice Sarah Katz of Auckland High Court Tuesday. Zespri is seeking damages of up to $30 million there, for infringement on its intellectual property rights to the G3 and G9 kiwifruit it developed over years with New Zealand scientists.

Gao, his wife Xia Xue and their company Smiling Face Ltd. are at the centre of the Zespri action, alleging plant material taken from this country has been used for at least four orchards covering 167 hectares of land in China. China is one of the world's biggest markets for kiwifruit and Zespri claims to have had big plans to export the gold kiwifruit there.

The court has heard of an extensive inquiry by Zespri in China involving private investigators and NZ border protection agencies searching Gao as he left to and returned from China with grafting tools. A police investigation did not lead to criminal prosecution, but delivered phone and social media records to Zespri, and samples of fruit and leaves being secured and DNA tested from the Chinese orchards.

Zespri's global production manager Shane Max said in evidence yesterday that documents Zespri obtained under the Official Information Act showed how Gao also conspired to export Zespri's G3 and G9 plant material to a grower in Victoria, Australia.

Their communications discussed the best ways of taking kiwifruit plant material into Australia without being detected, with Gao and another man agreeing multiple use of couriers was safest.

Gao's lawyer, Eugene St John, earlier said his client denied taking the plant material to China and only ever discussed growing techniques for the gold fruit on WeChat and other communications.



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