BANGKOK, Thailand — Customs agents seized a record 1,078 pounds of raw ivory at Bangkok's airport, but the man who came to collect the smuggled goods was allowed to go free, Thai officials said Monday.
The 112 pieces of elephant tusk, worth more than $131,000, were found Friday in three iron boxes freighted from Zambia. The ivory was concealed under a thick layer of uncut gemstones.
Documents with the shipment said the boxes contained 1,188 pounds of gemstones. The size of the consignment aroused officers' suspicions, Rapee Asumpinpong, deputy director general of Thai customs, told a news conference.
Mohammed Tailo, a citizen of the West African country of Guinea, was arrested when he showed up at the airport's cargo terminal to claim the goods, but he was later released when he agreed to sign over all the ivory to the Thai government.
Rapee said that under Thai law, the owner of illegal imported goods is freed if he gives all the goods to the government. That applies unless there is other legislation specifying harsher penalties, such as in the case of illegal drugs.
The government had not decided what to do with the ivory, but Rapee said that since Thailand is a member of international conventions forbidding trade in endangered wildlife and animal parts, it will not sell the contraband.
The ivory will be either destroyed or handed to a government department that can put it on display or to otherwise good use, he said.