The auctioneers said it was "an isolated incident" and confirmed to ATG that they have robust training programme in place to identify illegal ivory that is regularly reviewed.
Although more than a century old, the object was prohibited on the grounds that the ivory specimen was ‘unworked’. The firm admitted the charge at Hammersmith Magistrates Court yesterday and were fined £3250.
The consignor of the ivory trophy, silver dealer Barry Collins of Stanmore, Middlesex, aged 63, who said he found it in a loft after his mother died, has been bailed until September. He has denied contravening regulations.
The object, which was catalogued as “a large Indian silver-mounted section of an elephant tusk, unmarked c.1880”, was due to be offered at Christie’s South Kensington sale of April 28, 2015 with a £1200-1800 estimate. The 2ft 4in (69cm) high trophy had chased foliate mounts which were inscribed Lest we forget and engraved with the badge of the Junior United Service Club.
Following a tip-off, the item was seized by officers from the Wildlife Crime Unit of the Metropolitan Police during the sale viewing.
Contrary to reports in the national press, this was not an issue to do with licenses or paperwork.
Under the revised guidance issued by the European Commission to CITES management authorities in December 2012, uncarved ivory tusks embellished with metal mounts no longer qualify under the ‘worked item’ derogation.
This allows most antiques exemption from normal sales controls, providing the items were “significantly altered from its natural raw state for jewellery, adornment, art, utility or musical instrument” prior to being acquired in June 1947. It is illegal to sell unworked elephant ivory of any age under CITES rules.
The magistrate at the court, Gay Cheyne, said: “Christie’s professionals should know what they are doing and should be beyond reproach."
“Balanced against that, the guidance is confusing and there have been changes in the regulations and guidance."
A Christie’s spokesperson said: “Christie's unequivocally condemns the slaughter of elephants for illegal ivory and will not sell modern ivory, or unworked tusks of any age. We take the obligations in relation to endangered species very seriously.
“Our ongoing responsibility is to ensure that illegal ivory cannot be sold at Christie’s, and as part of this we have a robust training programme in place that is regularly reviewed. This was an isolated incident and we believe that the honourable response was to accept the charge as made.”