The Swiss authorities are to destroy two tons of illegally imported caviar worth almost SFr3 million ($2.24 million).
The haul was one of the biggest in Switzerland and has been hailed as a major success in tbe fight against the illegal trade in caviar.
In a statement on Monday, the Federal Veterinary Office said it had confiscated the caviar at the end of October after a two-year legal battle with the importers.
Caviar has been protected since 1997 under the CITES convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which aims to protect wild animals and plants.
The import, export and re-export of the expensive delicacy is heavily controlled because stocks of the caviar-producing sturgeon fish have been heavily depleted worldwide due to overfishing and illegal trade.
“This is one of the most important cases internationally in preserving the CITES agreement,” said the Veterinary Office’s Thomas Althaus.
He added that the case was a major boost to Swiss efforts to crack down on the highly lucrative illegal caviar trade.
The Veterinary Office said the caviar was seized in the spring of 2001, after being sent to Geneva via distributor in the United Arab Emirates.
A Russian export certificate stated the origin of the caviar as being Kazakhstan, but investigators later found that the document had expired and that Kazakhstan had never provided any documents for the caviar.
The company that imported the caviar insisted it had done so in good faith, believing that the eggs were legal - an explanation that was accepted by a Swiss court.
But the Federal Court, Switzerland’s highest court, later overturned the ruling in what the Veterinary Office called a “historic” decision.
In 1998 Switzerland was the third-largest importer of caviar (65 tons) after Japan (100 tons) and the United States (70 tons).
Switzerland was a hub in the international caviar trade until 2000, but over the past two years the country has mainly concentrated on importing for the domestic market (20 tons in 1998).
The legal international trade in caviar is said to be worth around $90 million a year, but the illegal trade is thought to be worth ten times that sum.
swissinfo with agencies
Caviar is one of the world’s most expensive luxury items.
It is produced from the sturgeon, a fish that can live for up to 100 years but only produces eggs from the age of 15.
95% of caviar comes from the Caspian Sea.
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