THE Federal Agriculture Department unlawfully issued a live animal export permit to Emanuel Exports only weeks before cancelling the company’s export licence, court documents show.

The department admitted the embarrassing bungle in a Federal Court filing this week, conceding its officer should not have issued the permit because Agriculture Department boss Daryl Quinlivan delegated the authority to approve the shipment only.

He gave her no authority to reject Emanuel’s application, which made her decision unlawful.

The June 6 shipment of 58,000 Kuwait-bound sheep sparked protests from anti-live trade activists, and came only weeks after Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced rules reducing stock densities on ships bound for Middle Eastern destinations.

The revelation comes as the Agriculture Department again plunged the State’s live export industry into turmoil, suspending the export licence of Emanuel subsidiary EMS Rural Exports as it made preparations to load the sheep on to a vessel at Fremantle.

Emanuel’s licence was suspended three weeks ago, amid investigations into animal welfare breaches on its export voyages.

The department’s decision to consider an application from EMS, a subsidiary of Emanuel, caused fresh political outrage this week. But on Wednesday the company was making preparations for a shipment and there were wide expectations its application would be approved.

A live export vessel, the Al Shuwaikh, took on food for the sheep at Fremantle only days ago, preparing to carry at least 45,000 animals to the Middle East.

The Agriculture Department issued a statement overnight on Wednesday, saying it had cancelled a licence “pending a full review”.

Its decision leaves 60,000 sheep stuck on a Baldivis feedlot, with uncertainty about their fate.

Animals Australia, which brought the lawsuit that forced the department’s damaging admission, said it welcomed the EMS suspension. Farmer’s groups issued a joint statement, saying the department’s sudden reversal added to the “significant uncertainty” for WA’s sheep industry.

Emanuel and EMS director Nick Daws said the companies would “co-operate fully” with the review. “Emanuel remains committed to working with the regulator to ensure good animal welfare standards are maintained, while we continue to work on a solution for these sheep,” he said.