Kennedy pleads guilty to animal smuggling

Jamie McKinnell

Former NRL player Martin Kennedy has pleaded guilty to being involved in an exotic wildlife smuggling ring.

The 29-year-old, who has played for the Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos, was arrested in March last year after police raided his home and found two pythons and a large sum of cash.

It followed an investigation into a syndicate that smuggled wildlife including shingleback lizards, snapping turtles and sugar gliders.

Kennedy appeared in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday, charged with six offences including attempting to import regulated live specimens.

According to the agreed facts, authorities intercepted a total of 22 packages containing animals on three separate occasions between July and October 2016.

Four of the packages, bound for Sweden, were intercepted by Border Force officials after an x-ray in July 2016. They contained two dozen shingleback lizards and 10 turtles.

A further shipment of lizards, also bound for Sweden, was seized in October that year.

Court documents reveal the lizards can fetch up to 10,000 euros (A$16,117 ) when sold overseas.

Kennedy travelled to Bangkok in October 2016 and returned several days later, initially refusing to unlock his mobile phone at the request of Australian Border Force officials and deleting applications including Facebook and Facebook Messenger before handing it over.

Not long after, 16 parcels were intercepted on their way into Australia from Bangkok and were found to contain Chinese soft-shell turtles, 15 alligator snapping turtles, about 70 snakehead fish - some of which had died, 11 stingrays, 15 veiled chameleons and two sugar gliders.

Court documents also reveal an undercover officer met twice with Kennedy at a Darling Harbour bar, where he bragged about his ability to procure wildlife.

In a January 2017 meeting, Kennedy - who told the officer his name was Ben - described fish as being "finicky as f***" but said while some died in transit, the profit margin still remained high.

He also spoke of the low risk of getting caught.

"If you get busted it's a $500 fine and (warning) don't ever do that again," Kennedy said, according to the court documents.

The ex-footballer also admitted to buying fish from Bangkok markets and said selling reptiles was a lucrative business.

"They're worth $300 (each) here, they're worth three grand over there," he said.

"So how about instead of selling all these snakes for 10 grand here, I sell them over there and buy a f***ing house."

Kennedy will face a sentencing hearing in the Downing Centre District Court on April 13.