Czech academic, official accused of stealing rare orchids in New Zealand


Two Czechs were charged this week with attempting to smuggle protected native orchids out of New Zealand. If found guilty, the two men could face up to five years in prison, as smuggling orchids is a serious crime under New Zealand law. But friends and relatives of the two men claim the whole affair is a misunderstanding, and the two are innocent.

Cestmir Cihalik, Dean of Medicine at Olomouc University, photo: CTKCestmir Cihalik, Dean of Medicine at Olomouc University, photo: CTK Cestmir Cihalik, Dean of Medicine at Olomouc University, and Jindrich Smitak, an employee of the Czech Environmental Inspection Agency in Brno, were arrested and charged on Monday. The arrests were based on video evidence which the authorities said clearly showed them stealing the orchids from a national park near Auckland.

According to New Zealand's deputy Environment Minister, Mr Cihalik was arrested with 110 orchids in his possession and Mr Smitak with 15. It is assumed they were trying to smuggle them out of the country, an offence under New Zealand's Trade in Endangered Species Act. The country's Wildlife Enforcement Group had apparently been monitoring the two men since Christmas. They now face the prospect of several years in prison and a fine of almost two million Czech crowns.

Friends and relatives of the two are stunned by the affair, and insist there's been a misunderstanding. University dean Cestmir Cihalik is a leading biologist; Jindrich Smitak is a tree specialist working for the Environment Ministry. Both men are respected orchid growers. Colleagues contacted by a Czech newspaper said it was inconceivable the two would try to steal rare plants. A court will decide next Thursday whether the two should stand trial.


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