Tortoise man fined $7000
A JOONDALUP magistrate has fined a Girrawheen man $7000 over the illegal possession of three Madagascan radiated tortoises stolen from Perth Zoo.
Magistrate Elaine Campione said she would have handed Mai Huy Vu Vo (29) a jail term had he, in fact, stolen the microchipped tortoises because of their critically endangered status – there are just 400 left in the world.
Ms Campione said she accepted Vo had taken good care of the two he claimed he had bought about 2011 – he bought the other in 2016 and handed it to police after seeing a news report about a tortoise taken from the zoo a week earlier – “but that doesn’t matter”.
The magistrate said she wondered about “breeding opportunities forgone” and the cost to the scientific world “deprived of these tortoises for a considerable period of time”.
“This is a very serious brain snap on your part,” she said.
Ms Campione said she would impose a meaningful fine as a general deterrent.
She took into account his early guilty plea, limited income – the court heard he received a below-average income from the Vietnamese restaurant he ran with his wife – and his good character.
She had read three references including those from his wife and parish priest.
“I accept you are usually a good person… and the references handed up to me speak very highly of you,” Ms Campione said.
“So you’re a hard-working man who ordinarily minds his own business and doesn’t come to the attention of the courts or authorities.”
Vo, who came to Australia in 2006, was represented by lawyer Mark Gunning and had an interpreter assist him.
Mr Gunning said when Vo handed the tortoise to police in February 2016, his limited English and education meant he hadn’t realised it was an endangered species.
The other two, the court heard, had been stolen from the zoo on June 8, 2011.
The police prosecutor said Vo told officers he had bought them from a friend of a drug dealer about 2011.
Police went to his house in September after a report of a break-in or damage and noticed the tortoises.
The prosecutor said after Vo returned the tortoise in 2016, he must have known about the others.