Vietnam's seized ivory waits to be sold, stolen or what?

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Vietnamese authorities are at a loss for what to do with at least 25 tons of confiscated ivory in their stores

Some of more than 209 kilograms of smuggled ivory confiscated in the central province of Nghe An last year. Some of the ivory was allegedly stolen from state storage with the connivance of a local official./ PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

On December 12, Ho Chi Minh City People's Court sentenced two men to three years in prison each for smuggling 2.4 tons of ivory from Mozambique into Vietnam by sea last June.

The court then ordered the ivory to be submitted to the state treasury.

Speaking in an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Nguyen Van Luc, chief of the HCMC Department for Execution of Judgments, said the ivory will be handed over to the Department of Finance, which will be charged with handling the contraband.

However, Dao Thi Huong Lan, director of the HCMC Department of Finance, said the department had never dealt with items like ivory and was unsure of what to do with it.

Do Quang Tung, director of the CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) office in Vietnam, said at the moment about 25 tons of seized elephant ivory ordered by courts to be submitted to the state treasury is being kept in storage by different agencies nationwide.

CITES was informed of the ivory's weight only, and has yet to assign people to check the stores, Trung said.

Under Vietnamese laws, once submitted to the state treasury, assets will be managed by the Department of Public Asset Management at the Ministry of Finance.

But, an unnamed official with the department told Tuoi Tre that his agency did not manage ivory and that ivory consignments are now being kept by customs, police and court's execution divisions around the country.

According to CITES to which Vietnam is a signatory, the trade in ivory is banned, so local authorities cannot put the exhibits to auction, the official said.

In the meantime, at least one case in which officials stole confiscated ivory has been reported.

Police in the central province of Nghe An last month arrested one official and three employees a security guard, a storekeeper, and an intern with local execution divisions for allegedly stealing 105 kilograms of ivory from state storage.

According to Tuoi Tre, the ivory was among more than 209 kilograms local police confiscated from in a smuggling case one year ago. It was being kept by Vinh Town's execution division.

It was ordered to be auctioned, and proceedings to be submitted to the exchequer by Vinh's People's Court at a hearing last October.

The ivory was estimated to cost more than VND6 billion (US$282,000).

Judge Tran Anh Sang told the newspaper that local agencies were about to organize an auction when the theft occured.

Asked if it was legal to sell the ivory, Sang said under a government decree, exhibits which are wildlife can be re-exported to their places of origin, used in scientific research, made into medicine, or sold with proceedings submitted to the state budget.

Col. Tran Hong, head of Nghe An Police Department's environmental crime prevention, also said the ivory can be priced and sold because it was smuggled for commercial purposes.

However, Dr. Hoang Minh Duc, deputy chief of the Institute for Southern Vietnam Ecology, said to put ivory on auction is no different than legalizing and encouraging the trade of ivory.

It is fine to use the ivory for scientific research and education, he said.

The best solution is to destroy it, according to Duc.

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