TWO brothers illegally imported eight 'aphrodisiac' rhino horns worth almost €500,000.
Michael O'Brien (28) and Jeremiah O'Brien (33) of Roches Road, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, admitted the illegal importation of the horns worth €492,160 at Shannon Airport on January 18, 2010.
George Mealy, of Mealy Fine Arts in Co Kilkenny, told Ennis District Court the horns were "worth more in weight than gold".
Mr Mealy, a Castlecomer-based dealer, said rhino horns, a popular aphrodisiac in the Far East, were worth €60,000 per kilo in today's market but had been worth €20,000 a kilo back in 2010.
This meant that the horns the brothers were caught with were now worth around €1.5m.
Mr Mealy said he recently sold a 19th century rhino horn for €70,000, adding: "The selling of raw rhino horns is totally illegal. All over the world, there is underground dealing in rhino horns.
"There is a black market selling horns for medical purposes and to China."
Michael O'Brien pleaded guilty to the illegal importation of four rhino horns worth €260,400.
His brother, Jeremiah O'Brien, pleaded guilty to illegally importing €231,760 worth of rhino horns.
John Cussen, defending, told the court: "The black market on rhino horns is based on extraordinary superstition in the east where these horns are seen to have somewhat magical properties– that they are seen as an aphrodisiac and enhance sexual performance."
Mr Cussen added: "These horns were not from freshly killed rhinos. They are not raw horns. They are antique rhino horns and they are no later than 1960."
Mr Cussen said a Portuguese antique dealer, a Mr Hernandez, gave the horns to his clients to work on and they were going to return them. He said: "They didn't own the horns and they were not dealing in them." He said that the value put on the horns by the State "is an artificial value as there is no open market for rhino horns".
Mr Cussen said his clients were antique dealers, who travelled across Europe.
Both were married, with young children, without any previous convictions.
He said: "They are not in good circumstances and live time to time in caravan parks in France and Germany."
Dermot Twohig, of the Revenue Commissioners, told the court that the horns were found in the O'Briens' luggage after they flew back to Shannon from Faro in Portugal.
Mr Twohig said that after being seized they were brought to Dublin Zoo, where they were confirmed as rhino horns.
Sentencing, Judge Patrick Durcan said: "In my relatively short time on the bench, this has been one of the most interesting and intriguing cases that I have ever heard."
Judge Durcan said that the most important aspect of the case was that the rhino horns were antique.
He said: "It is very clear that the actions of Jeremiah O'Brien and Michael O'Brien did not in any way compromise the protection of wild animals and did not in any way compromise the efforts being made worldwide to prevent the damage of such animals."
Judge Durcan fined both accused €500 each.