Importers Beware! Ivory Inlaid Qing Dynasty Tea Set Forfeited to Crown
Rules on the import of elephant ivory and other materials derived from endangered species are extremely tight. A leading art and antiques gallery found that out the hard way when an extremely rare Qing dynasty tea and coffee set was seized at Heathrow Airport and subsequently declared forfeit to the Crown.
The set had arrived at the airport in a crate from Hong Kong and was not accompanied by a valid import permit, as required by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species 1973 (CITES). Following its seizure, all attempts to persuade UK Border Force (UKBF) to return it to the gallery had failed.
The gallery argued that condemnation of the set, which contained less than 1 per cent ivory, would be a tragic loss to the art world and Chinese cultural heritage. The absence of the permit was alleged to be the fault of a shipping firm and the gallery argued that it had done all in its power to comply with the law.
In dismissing the gallery’s appeal, however, the First-tier Tribunal noted that the seizure was lawful and rejected claims that it was disproportionate. The gallery was a commercial business that had been importing art and antiques from around the world for over 40 years and should have been on high alert following two earlier seizures in the preceding 12 months. The gallery was responsible for the importation and could not delegate to others its duty to comply with CITES.