Customs officials in Germany have confiscated about 1,2 tons of ivory - the biggest such haul in the country, officials said in a news conference in Berlin on Friday (September 09).
The find - several complete tusks but also ivory carvings and cut up pieces - is worth over 1 million euros, German customs said in a statement.
"We are talking about the biggest amount of ivory that was ever confiscated in Germany. We checked records of the last ten years in Europe as well and can say for that period of time that it is also the biggest catch in Europe," German customs president Uwe Schroeder said in a news conference
Last May, authorities at Schoenefeld airport near Berlin were suspicious of several packages declared as marble clocks destined for Vietnam. Customs officials found 625 kilograms of ivory after opening the boxes, which led to the arrest of two suspects in a warehouse near Koblenz in Rhineland-Palatinate at the end of August.
Investigators found some 570 kilograms of ivory there, as well as grinding and cutting machines.
Prosecutor Bernhard Brocher and his team could hardly believe their luck:
"To our total surprise one of the suspects, who we thought was in Vietnam, had indeed returned to Germany. And furthermore he was still working with the second suspect. And the whole place was packed with ivory. Including all the necessary machinery," he said.
Authorities now try to shed more light on the case as there are still many unanswered questions, Brochter said.
"The whole background - why ivory from Africa, bound for Asia, is processed in a basement in a former industrial area in the Hunsrueck mountains and who in what way took part in the whole operation - that remains a thrilling question that we need to answer," he said.