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Ivory 'smuggler' guilty
Updated: 2005-01-07 09:43

A 53-year-old Shanghai resident thought he was rescuing cultural relics when he bought two Chinese ivory carvings at a Paris auction and brought them back home.

But rather than thank him, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court yesterday sentenced Zheng Songqing to two years in prison with a probation of two years and fined him 15,000 yuan (US$1,807) for violating the country's laws on ivory trading.

The pieces that touched off the court case are carvings of the Guanyin Buddha and Longevity God that were removed from China prior to 1949. Zheng bought them at a Paris auction for 30,000 yuan last summer.

He was arrested when he tried to clear customs without declaring any items on June 12 at Pudong International Airport. Entry-exit officers found the sculptures in his luggage and determined they were made of ivory taken from African elephants and valued at 500,000 yuan.

Prosecutors said elephants are an endangered species and products made from them are banned from entering China. They argued that Zheng was guilty of smuggling.

The defendant contended that the products should be considered cultural objects.

"They were relics left in a foreign country, and I wanted to bring them back to China. Otherwise, I won't have bought them," said Zheng. "The law should protect living wild animals. As for the handicrafts made decades ago, it is meaningless to ban the trade."

His lawyer, Ping Fan, offered an assessment by the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Committee that backed his client's point of view. The assessment declared that the carvings are cultural relics and can be traded.

"The carvings shouldn't be viewed as ivory products only," Ping said. "They are also cultural relics. It is a good thing for Zheng to return them to the motherland."

Prosecutor Chen Weixing said the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is the prevailing authority in the case. China joined the convention in 1981.

"We welcome individuals to buy back cultural relics that once belonged to the country. But they must abide by the law," Chen said.

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