A Chinese businessman has been fined for receiving 480kg of stolen mānuka honey after a well-planned heist targeting a ready-for-export shipment at an Auckland warehouse.
Sheng Sun, 42, was sentenced today in the Auckland District Court after the break-in at Azurelife International on June 5, 2016.
He continues to deny any offending despite Judge Ajit Singh finding Sun guilty of receiving the stolen honey after a trial in January.
How much of the stolen honey was in Sun's possession remains in dispute.
Judge Singh convicted and sentenced Sun to pay a $17,500 fine, $15,000 of which would be a reparation payment to Azurelife.
Sun said he was able to pay the fine by week's end.
The value of the shipment was more than $33,000 and was one of the larger honey heists in the last few years, as high values and overseas demand develops a criminal underbelly, the Herald revealed.
The annual cost of crime for the New Zealand honey industry is understood to be in the millions.
Two large pallets, full of 360 500g honey pots and 300 1kg honey jars, were the target at Azurelife's East Tamaki warehouse.
Following a tip-off after the break-in, police began investigating Sun, a Chinese-New Zealand businessman, who has lived in New Zealand for 16 years but returns to his birth country regularly for work.
When police raided his home and business, Belong Health Store on Auckland's Dominion Rd, they found just over a quarter of the stolen honey.
The rest had disappeared.
Police said it was on-sold to other buyers.
In a reserved decision, Judge Singh found Sun was at best wilfully ignorant and reckless to the fact the honey was stolen.
Sun, who sells cosmetics, health supplies and honey, had claimed a man named "Gary" made him an attractive offer he couldn't refuse.
He told detectives he bought the honey from the mystery man on June 8 last year for $15,000 in cash.
During Sun's trial, his counsel Lester Cordwell said there was no debate about whether the honey was in his client's possession but argued about the amount.
"Clearly the items had been received by Mr Sun, they were stolen – that's accepted," he told the court.
Police recovered 96 containers of the 500g honey pots and 166 units of the 1kg honey jars, much of which was found for sale on Sun's store shelves.
Cordwell said police could only speculate that his client had once had the rest of the honey in his possession.
Judge Singh considered the transaction with Gary was "very unusual" and Sun had been reckless.
"Accordingly, I find you guilty as charged of receiving stolen mānuka health honey," Singh said, when delivering his verdict earlier this year.
"Guilty?" a confused Sun said, who has previously served time in prison on violence charges.
"I found you guilty, and counsel can give you advice," the judge replied.
"I don't understand the decision, no way! I saw [Gary] yesterday, why don't you ask him?" Sun said.
Cordwell told the court today that Gary, the "middle man", has not been prosecuted despite police knowing his identity.
"There has been no attempts by the police to bring this person to justice," he said.
Azurelife's manager, Simon Sun, who is no relation to Sheng Sun, described the moments after the burglary.
"I found the door was open, I immediately saw the cables to the burglar alarm and the CCTV cameras had been cut," he told the court during the trial in January.
The company was targeted because it had a successful reputation for exporting honey products to China, where the demand for New Zealand's mānuka is high due to its believed health benefits, the court heard.
When Simon Sun inspected the perimeter of the Azurelife property he found the steel gate smashed in, the power cut, and an obvious beeline from the burglary site to the back of the complex.
The burglars knew exactly what they wanted and where to find it, he told the court.
"I believe the offenders may have known about the delivery," Simon Sun said.
The break-in at Azurelife has led to three prosecutions.
A 32-year-old man was also charged with receiving stolen property, and a 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property and sentenced last year.