'Fish Pants Smuggler' Caught In New Zealand Airport With Creatures In His Pockets

By Josh Lieberman on August 30, 2013 5:04 PM EDT

cichlid
A man attempted to smuggle seven cichlid fish through a New Zealand airport by putting them in water-filled plastic bags shoved into his cargo pants. He was caught. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A Vietnamese man's foolproof plan to smuggle tropical fish into New Zealand by stuffing them into plastic bags in his cargo pants went horribly wrong this week. 

The plan went off the rails when the man arrived at Auckland Airport from Australia. (It's unclear how he was able to board a plane in Australia with bagfuls of fish in his pockets.) The jig was up when New Zealand Customs officials noticed the man's cargo pants were bulging but wet. When asked why this was so, the man said he was thirsty and had taken water from the plane.

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The man probably thought he'd gotten away with the perfect crime (hiding things in pockets) when his plan hit a snag: the customs officials asked him to empty his cargo pockets. Inside were two water-filled plastic bags containing seven live fish, all of the species cichlid. 

"This appears to be a deliberate attempt to smuggle fish into the country without any consideration of the biosecurity risk involved," said Craig Hughes of the Ministry for Primary Industries. "The fish could have been carrying diseases or have the potential to displace native species. Even if the species were permitted to enter the country under New Zealand's import regulations, it would still need to go through strict quarantine procedures."

The fish smuggling attempt is about as brazen as last month's episode in which a Chinese man tried to smuggle his favorite turtle in a hamburger through Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in south central China. That gentleman, identified only as Mr. Lee, almost got away with it, but like the fish smuggler, Lee was foiled by officials refusing to take "I'm not smuggling an animal" for an answer. 

"There's no turtle in there, just a hamburger," Lee allegedly told airport security. "There's nothing special to see inside." 

In fact, there was something special to see: a turtle stuffed into a hamburger.

The fish smuggler faces charges under New Zealand's Biosecurity Act, which could carry a penalty of five years in prison or a fine of roughly $78,000 USD. The captured fish were "humanely euthanized."

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