HONG KONG/JAPAN • More than seven tonnes of ivory worth over US$9 million (S$12.4 million) were seized in Hong Kong, officials said, the largest bust of its kind in the city in three decades.
The 7,200kg haul was hidden underneath frozen fish and raised suspicions due to the high transport fees listed on the bill of import.
Hong Kong Customs officials said on Thursday the cargo had come from Malaysia and was believed to have been the work of a major smuggling ring. One man and two women have been arrested in connection with the find, Customs official Wan Hing Chuen said, warning that there could be more arrests.
Hong Kong is a major hub for ivory import and processing, but it launched a landmark Bill last month to phase out the trade by 2021. Critics say the city's authorities are lagging behind mainland China, where officials have pledged to completely ban ivory trading by the end of this year.
Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox
The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
There are now believed to be some 415,000 left, with 30,000 illegally killed each year.
Ivory is highly sought-after in China, where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicine or to make ornaments. Prices for a kilogram reach as high as US$1,100.
Yesterday, Japanese online retailer Rakuten said it is banning the sale of ivory on its site, shutting a major sales route in one of the world's largest legal ivory markets.
The firm made the decision following mounting international criticism of the trade, with trading to be phased out over the next month.
Ivory imported before 1989 can be legally traded in Japan, with the government denying a link to illegal poaching. The government and e-commerce sellers have been tightening monitoring of sellers, who are legally required to register their stock.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE