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Customs appeal tobacco decision

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/05/2017

© Getty Images The Court of Appeal heard on Tuesday whether a Motueka man can keep the nearly five tonnes of tobacco leaf he grew, seven years after Customs seized it.

Lawrence Reginald Jury was present in the court in Wellington, where his lawyer Peter McRae was fighting Customs' appeal of a High Court decision in December.

That decision, by Judge Denis Clifford, ruled against the Customs Appeal Authority, which had determined Mr Jury forfeited tobacco leaf he had grown that was seized in a police and Customs raid in May 2010.

The 4.8 tonnes of tobacco leaf was worth about $2 million.

Mr Jury was convicted of manufacturing tobacco in the Motueka Valley in 2012, but that conviction was later quashed by the High Court on the basis the Crown had not proved his homegrown tobacco was intended for an illegal purpose.

Customs' lawyer Alan Goosen says the tobacco was seized under the Customs and Excise Act because there was a belief Mr Jury willingly knew that it would be used not for his personal use but by other people "unlawfully".

"He knew that tobacco would be manufactured without a licence," Mr Goosen said.

"He did not care what happened to it after he sold it."

In New Zealand it is not illegal to grow tobacco, but it is to manufacture it for smoking, which requires a licence.

Mr McRae told the Court of Appeal the entire case hinged on one issue: Mr Jury's intention to sell.

He said Customs were aware of Mr Jury's tobacco stock growing from 2007 to 2010 but did not conduct any investigations in that time.

After criminal proceedings found in Mr Jury's favour in 2013, Mr McRae said Customs had an obligation to return the seized tobacco.

"We reached an end point in 2013 because there was no other basis for it to be seized."

The decision of Justices French, Miller and Winkelmann was reserved.

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