Saturday 24 March 2018

Revenue to burn rhino horns that are worth €1.5m

State will foot the bill for six years of storage

Target: Hornless museum rhino Photo: Ray Cullen
Target: Hornless museum rhino Photo: Ray Cullen
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that they will destroy eight 'aphrodisiac' rhino horns - worth more than €1.5m - despite footing the bill for keeping them in a high-security hideaway for six years, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The revelation comes after a gang of Irish Travellers, with links to a worldwide criminal network, were found guilty in the UK of a multimillion-euro rhino-horn heist and stealing priceless Chinese artefacts.

Rhino horns are highly prized in Southeast Asia, where in recent years a myth has emerged that they can cure cancer and enhance virility.

It means they are worth more than their weight in gold - despite having a chemical composition not markedly different from a horse's hoof.

Illegal rhino-horn trading is highly lucrative, with a single horn fetching up to €200,000 on the international black market - especially in Vietnam, where horns are used for medical purposes and as an aphrodisiac.

The eight horns which will now be destroyed have been in Revenue custody since they were confiscated in an anti- smuggling sting at Shannon Airport in January 2010. At the time of the discovery, the combined value of the horns was €492,160.

But antiques experts say their black-market value has soared in the past six years and put their worth at between €1.5m and €2m in Southeast Asia.

Poaching to feed the illicit trade has further endangered a species that is already under extreme pressure from loss of habitat and armed conflict.

The tax authorities have made various unsuccessful attempts to offload the rhino horns over the years.

First, they were offered to the National Museum of Ireland - but the National History division refused to put the horns on display because of the risk that they would attract criminal gangs.

In September 2014, the museum authorities wrote to Revenue, suggesting the "destruction" of the horns and to make this known to the public, so as to deter their sale on the black market.

A Freedom of Information request provided to the Sunday Independent reveals that a similar offer was then made to the National Parks and Wildlife Service - but this was also rejected.

Now, in order to finally rid itself of the horns, Revenue will "incinerate" them, despite their high value.

A spokeswoman insisted that the cost of storage in a secret hideaway for the past six years had been "minimal" - but for security reasons could not provide the overall cost.

A kilo of rhino horn now sells for approximately €55,000 on the black market. That weight in gold would be worth around €37,000.

In 2013, rhino heads and horns, valued at €500,000, were stolen from a warehouse leased by the National Museum in north Co Dublin.

And in 2014, an antique rhino horn was stolen from Michael Flatley's Castlehyde mansion. As no other items were taken in the break-in, it is believed that the rhino horn was specifically targeted.

Sunday Independent

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