A dealer who tried to sell an elephant tusk at Christie’s has been spared a fine after claiming he was “misled” by their antiques experts.
Barry Collins, 64, said he was given the “completely wrong advice” when he took the ivory to be offered for sale by the prestigious auctioneers.
Experts at Christie’s assessed the Indian tusk, mounted on a silver pedestal, as having been crafted in about 1880 and valued it at between £1,200 and £1,800.
The company, which was founded in 1776, then offered it for sale on their website and in a catalogue without obtaining the necessary paperwork to exempt it from strict EU guidelines on endangered species, the court heard.
It was fined £3,250 – said to be an “absolute drop in the ocean” – on May 23 after pleading guilty to one count of the “prohibited offering for sale of a specimen” at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court.
Tony Woodcock, on behalf of Christie’s, told magistrates that the South Kensington firm had made a “genuine mistake”.
Now Collins has been found guilty of one count of offering banned elephant ivory for sale at City of London Magistrates’ Court.
Prosecutor Aimee Emby said: “On the 15 May last year, police officers attended Christie’s Auction House.
“They did so following the receipt of information that a piece of ivory was being advertised for sale without the proper permissions.”
The court heard that police were able to trace the tusk to Collins because Christie’s returned it to him when it failed to sell.
When officers interviewed him at The London Silver Vaults on August 18 last year, he claimed he had sold the antique for £100 at Portobello market.
“The following day, he told officers the item was still in his possession and he had made an error,” said Miss Emby.
“The Crown’s case is, as has been outlined, that Mr Collins kept, transported, and offered for sale the item in question. His attendance at Christie’s with the intention of selling it was a clear offer to sell on the crown’s case.”
Collins told police he discovered the ornament in a loft after his mother died and was not aware of legislation relating to endangered species.
The court heard that under the old guidelines items that were “significantly altered from their raw state” for utility, ornament or jewellery would have been acceptable for sale.
New guidelines designed to protect elephants, rhinos and tigers mean that the raw tusk mounted on a silver pedestal required specific exemption paperwork.
Michael Levy, defending, said: “He went to take advice from the professionals the world-famous Christie’s Auction House and there really is a difference, we say, in going to seek advice from Christie’s rather than going to see the antique dealer next door or the man down the street.”
He added: “If Christie’s had behaved properly and hadn’t broken the law Mr Collins wouldn’t be here because they would have turned round and said to Mr Collins: ‘Sorry, we can’t sell that item’.
“They didn’t do that and they misled him and gave him completely wrong advice. The question is did he agree to them putting that item erroneously for sale and we say no he didn’t.”
Chair of the bench John Scott said: “We find beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Collins took this item to Christie’s with the intention that it be offered for sale, and therefore we find him guilty of the offence.”
Collins sat in the well of court as Mr Scott handed him a conditional discharge because he is a “man of good character”.
Mr Levy argued that any fine should have “parity” with Christie’s £3,250 penalty, adding: “The sum that Christie’s was ordered to pay was, to a company like Christie’s, an absolute drop in the ocean.”
Mr Scott answered “I take the point” and did not impose a fine on Collins for offering to sell the tusk.
The antique was confiscated and will be kept on display by the Metropolitan Police’s Wildlife Unit for training purposes.
“We want it to be put to good use and we are satisfied that the police will do that and we are confident that the police will let Mr Collins see it if he ever wants to,” said Mr Scott.
Collins, of Stanmore, Middlesex, denied one count of offering banned elephant ivory for sale. He was ordered to pay £620 prosecution costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
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