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Michael Elliot, 57, a regular at the Newark, Ardingly and Swinderby fairs, was described in court as a key member of an international network trading in parts of endangered species with posts in China, Latvia and the West.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of selling specimens of a controlled species. He also admitted one count of purchasing specimens of a controlled species and three offences of keeping specimens of a controlled species for sale between December 2004 and August 2005.

Prosecutor Rosa Dean told Southwark Crown Court: “It is the Crown’s case that Mr Elliot is a businessman who is at the hub of dealing in endangered species on an international scale.”

When they twice raided his home in Gravesend in January and March of 2005, detectives from Scotland Yard’s Wildlife Crime Unit discovered 24 illegal elephant tusks, almost 200 carved hippopotamus ivory figures and cane handles and 58 sperm whale teeth.

They also recovered £34,000 in cash, which has been confiscated as the proceeds of crime as part of a separate investigation by Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad.

Police also recovered a photograph of Elliot posing amongst a pile of elephant tusks in a Chinese ‘ivory factory’. He had made regular visits to China and Latvia as part of an operation that may have run for a decade.

Elliot first came to the attention of the police following a three-year investigation into ivory smuggling conducted by Scotland Yard and American authorities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A key source of information is Martin Schneider, 61, a dealer from Philadelphia who sold two sperm whale teeth to undercover agents in March 2005 and is now helping investigators as part of a plea bargain.

After sentencing, it was disclosed that the Gravesend dealer now faces prosecution on similar charges in the United States.