A bank tycoon
in the news after a local newspaper reported an expensive rhino horn was stolen from his residence told Thanh Nien Thursday he had papers to prove the legality of the horn.
Tram Be, deputy chairman of Sacombank, one of the country's major banks, said the horn was part of a stuffed rhino that a friend gave him and had been on display at his house in Tra Vinh Province since 2008.
On Tuesday Cong An TP HCM (Ho Chi Minh City Police) newspaper reported that Tra Vinh police were looking for a thief or thieves who stole the four-kilogram rhino horn from Be's ancestral house in Ham Giang Commune, Tra Cu District, on September 27.
The horn is estimated to be worth more than VND4 billion (US$191,600), according to the report.
The news prompted the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society to ask Tra Vinh police to investigate whether or not the rhino horn was legal as the trade in such wildlife products is heavily restricted in Vietnam.
WCS told police that the rhino horn missing from Be's residence may have been illegally imported into Vietnam.
Be is not on the list of legal importers of rhino horns compiled by CITES Vietnam, nor on the WCS list of legal exporters of rhino horns as hunting trophies from South Africa, the organization said.
Be told Thanh Nien Thursday that he had papers proving the legality of the stuffed rhino that the horn had been attached to.
"I don't know the weight of the horn because it [had not been] separate from the rhino," he said.
He also denied that the horn was worth $191,600.
Tra Vinh police have said they are investigating the case.
Do Quang Tung, deputy director of CITES Vietnam, told Thanh Nien that the agency had not granted Be a license to import rhino horns into Vietnam.
However, that does not mean the missing rhino horn was illegal, he said.
"In the case that Be can prove the rhino horn was legally imported into Vietnam, with the import license being granted to someone else, he can be cleared of allegations.
"In fact, we have yet to know if the horn was a gift or if someone asked Be to keep it for them."
According to Tung, under CITES regulations and Vietnamese laws, the trade of rhino horns is banned but the export and import of rhino horns as hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes is allowed.
Between 2006 and 2012 some 10-30 rhino horns were legally imported into Vietnam as hunting trophies each year.
Twenty-four rhinos legally imported from other countries are also kept in captivity at Vietnamese zoos.
Under Vietnam's Penal Code, the illegal trade of rhino horns can attract a maximum fine of VND500 million and a maximum jail term of seven years.
Tung said that between 2006 and 2012, Vietnamese authorities busted 11 cases involving the illegal transport of rhino horns from other countries, mostly African countries, into Vietnam, and four cases of illegal trading inside Vietnam.
Vietnam has seized more than 100 kilograms of rhino horn over the last six years, the highest tally of any country in the world, he said.
The rhino horns were mostly smuggled into Vietnam via airports, and most of the horns were then smuggled into China, he added.
According to a study by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC released last August, of the 43 documented arrests of Asian nationals for rhino crimes in South Africa -- the world's major supplier of horns -- 24 were Vietnamese.