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15 people arrested in Hong Kong ivory seizure

11/06/2014 15:51:41

Customs officials survey the ivory haul at Hong Kong airport

Customs officials find record-breaking haul during baggage search 

Hong Kong Customs officials have arrested 15 suspected ivory smugglers and seized 790 kilogrammes of ivory at Hong Kong International Airport in what they are calling the largest ivory seizure “among cases detected from air passengers”.

The ivory was discovered, during a search of 32 pieces of baggage, in the forms of raw tusks and semi-finished products. According to Hong Kong Customs the baggage tags showed the passengers, all Vietnamese, began their travels in Angola before arriving in Ethiopia and Hong Kong on their way to South Korea and their destination Cambodia.

The plane would not normally have been unloaded and searched however mechanical problems required the baggage hold to be unloaded. 

“It is clear that this ivory is not [intended] for local consumption,” said Alfred Wong, an endangered species protection officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

790 kilogrammes of ivory were seized

790 kilogrammes of ivory were seized

After discovering the ivory at 1am, it then took officials at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department several hours to locate and arrest the passengers that had checked in the seized baggage.

“This is a much needed crackdown by Hong Kong Customs to deter the current high levels of ivory smuggling,” said WildAid Executive Director Peter Knights who also identifies the legal trade as a means to launder freshly poached ivory. “Their efforts would be greatly facilitated by a total sales ban on ivory.”

If convicted the suspects face up to $5 million in fines and imprisonment of up to two years.

"Vietnam and Cambodia are emerging as ivory transit and consumption hotspots in their own right,” said WildAid consultant Alex Hofford. “On examination, some of the seized ivory seized was still coated in blood and had a strong odor of decay, suggesting that this is freshly poached ivory."

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