An image of one of the fans which were the subject of an investigation relating to the illegal export of ivory items.

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Guy Buckle, 62, and Sik-Hung Or, 73, of Champion Hill, SE5 were each sentenced to 28 months imprisonment at Inner London Crown Court on September 23. They pleaded guilty to three counts of illegally exporting ivory goods in breach of the Customs & Excise Management Act 1979.

A police investigation established that 136 carved ivory fans – most of them 19th century Cantonese – had been exported outside the EU by the pair between January 2014 and November 2017 with the sales totalling £145,259.

As antiques, the fans could be lawfully sold in the UK. However Buckle and Or made the majority of their sales to purchasers in China, Hong Kong and the US and dispatched the items without the necessary ‘re-export’ permits issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Permits would not have been issued as import bans on ivory have been in place in the US and China since 2017.

Heathrow seizure

The court heard how in November 2017, the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit were contacted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit after two parcels, destined for China, were seized by UK Border Force at Heathrow. The parcels each contained a carved ivory fan and officers quickly identified the sender as an online trader selling identical carved ivory items.

When the pair’s home address was searched in March 2018, a total of 291 carved ivory fans, all from protected or endangered species, and four pieces of unworked elephant ivory was seized.

Detective Constable Sarah Bailey who led the investigation said: “There are legal requirements in relation to the sale of specimens derived from protected/endangered species and these requirements had not been met in this case.

“I hope the sentencing highlights that this type of activity is illegal and acts as a deterrent to those involved in the illegal sale and export of such items.”

The pair were also in breach of eBay’s self-imposed ivory ban in place for more than 10 years. Research suggests ivory still appears for sale on the site but under ‘code’ names such as ‘ox-bone’.