Customs officers in Upper Austria seize more than 60 pieces of ivory jewellery and art

Following online checks, Austrian customs agents stop the sale of over 3 kg of ivory on an internet platform

While Austrian customs officers maintain a highly-visible presence, particularly at domestic airports and when clearing cargo through customs, when they are not manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets, they also do their jobs online. One area they keep an eye on is transactions on online sales platforms. As a result of this investigative work, a 62-year-old man in Upper Austria received an unexpected visit from investigators based at the Linz Customs Office at his home in the Vöcklabruck district, where officers seized over 3 kg of ivory in the course of an inspection.

Commenting on the success of the investigation, Austrian Minister of Finance Magnus Brunner said: "The work performed by our customs officers in Austria also represents a major contribution to protecting endangered species, which is one of their special duties. The latest seizure of items by customs officers in Upper Austria illustrates the importance of their work in the digital realm. in this case, customs officers came across a user profile on an online sales platform offering several pieces of ivory jewellery and sculpture for sale. Customs have now successfully seized these items."

At the end of January 2022, customs officers followed up on internet research by paying a visit to the vendor's home, where their suspicions were confirmed. During their inspection, the pensioner voluntarily handed over the goods in question, which he had put up for sale for a total of 12,000 euros. The investigation revealed the full extent of the illegal trade: in total, more than 60 individual ivory pieces, weighing over 3 kg, were surrendered to officers. Once customs officers informed the suspect of the comprehensive requirements governing the sale of such goods under legislation to protect endangered species, it became clear that none of those conditions had been met. The items were subsequently seized by the officers for evidence and forfeiture purposes in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure.

"Now that the new EU regulation has come into force, the trade in antiques containing ivory, which was previously much more straightforward, is now governed by standards as well," said Heike Fetka-Blüthner, director of the Austrian customs authority responsible for the operation. "Trade in antiques containing ivory, such as statuettes, carvings or pieces of jewellery, acquired over 50 years ago used to be permitted without a certificate. This has now changed. All purchases and acquisitions of items made of elephant ivory, without exception, now require approval, as do all attempts to offer such items for sale," the director explained. Deliberate wrongdoing is now punishable by several years' imprisonment or fines of up to 360 daily penalties.

"While ivory was once considered an object of prestige and an artistic material, it is now rightly regarded as a product of poaching and a threat to elephants, and is therefore subject to legislation to protect endangered species. That’s why, when this operation unearthed an elephant figurine made of ivory, it was particularly shocking for us. Austrian customs plays a significant role in the preservation and protection of many endangered wildlife species by performing professional inspections on the basis of the Species Protection Act," reiterated Finance Minister Magnus Brunner.