Cheese cheat fined $25,000 for illegal imports

SOUTH SURREY – A Burnaby man has been fined $25,000 for trying to bring nearly 13 tonnes of unreported cheese across the South Surrey border.

Manuel De Oliveira, owner of Beira Mar Importers Company Ltd., pled guilty in December to evading duty payments and importing dairy products without declaring them to border officials.

According to court documents, De Oliveira imported 737 shipments of goods into Canada between Jan. 1, 2005 and Jan. 16, 2010. Of those shipments, each contained between 917 and 4,300 kilograms of cheese. The total amount imported but not reported is 12,899 kilograms, with an estimated value of $132,539.90 in U.S. currency.

Two of those shipments were intercepted at Pacific Highway Crossing in Surrey. Both were reported as containing only grapes or grape juice, but the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) found cheese in those shipments. There was a monetary penalty levied against De Oliveira’s company, Beira Mar, and in 2008 he was assessed a $7,625 fine, equivalent to 20 percent of the value not declared.

Cheese may be imported to Canada, but it is subject to a quota system administered by an arm of the Department of Foreign Affairs under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. Imports above the allowable quota are subject to a 245.5 per cent rate of duty in order to protect Canada’s dairy supply management system.

“At the time Mr. De Oliveira committed these offences, he was voluntarily participating in a system to protect the Canadian cheese industry and, by flouting it, he unfairly competed with people who followed the rules,” the judgment states. “He also removed the ability of health inspectors to ensure the cheese he was importing met health standards.”

Crown prosecutors pointed out that De Oliveira’s total evaded duty is calculated at $461,971.65. The maximum penalty under the Canada Agriculture Products Act for an indictable offence is a fine of $250,000 or up to two years in jail, or both. Under the Customs Act, those maximum penalties rise to $500,000 or five years in jail.

According to the judgment, Oliveira was several days into a 20-day trial when he entered guilty pleas to the two counts.

The case was highlighted on Friday by the CBSA to warn travellers of the risks of failing to declare food, plants or animal products.

The agency also issued a reminder that a Jan. 8 ban remains in effect on all birds, raw poultry and poultry by-products that are not fully cooked, including raw eggs and raw pet food for products from Oregon and Washington state.

amacnair@thenownewspaper.com