Published 20 October 2009

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10 months for eBay ivory trader

Cambridge, UK, 20th October 2009—A man who traded in elephant and whale ivory on eBay was sentenced to 10 months in prison following an international investigation by the UK's HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Nicholas Noonan, 46, of Bedfordshire, UK, pleaded guilty on 5 October 2009 to charges relating to illegal trading in African Elephant tusks and Sperm Whale teeth as well as ivory artefacts. They had been carved into billiard balls or used to make corkscrews before being sold on the commercial website.

A man illegally selling ivory artefacts through eBay has been sentenced to 10 months in jail in the UK. © HRMC   

The trade of these items is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Expert witness statements in the case were provided by TRAFFIC, on the elephant ivory trade, by Orca, on the sperm whale teeth trade, and by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (the UK’s CITES Scientific Authority for animals). 

The investigation was launched in 2006 when covert agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service received an unsolicited email, via eBay, asking them to look at a number of tusks that were listed for sale by Noonan. 

Over the following months, Noonan traded various tusks, teeth and artefacts with the undercover agents; the evidence was then passed on to HMRC officers, with the National Wildlife Crime Unit undertaking initially gathering intelligence for the case. 

Noonans home was later raided by HMRC officers and Bedfordshire Police, who found various items that were examined by experts at the Natural History Museum and confirmed as elephant tusks and whale teeth. In an attempt to continue trading ivory on eBay, Noonan had illegally obtained a certificate of exemption, then falsely altered and used it to pretend that specimens had an exemption certificate.

Peter Millroy, Assistant Director of HM Revenue & Customs said: "This was a concerted effort to break a law which is designed to preserve species at risk of extinction. The sentence handed down today shows that anyone tempted to trade in protected creatures and plants should think again."

Stephanie Pendry, TRAFFIC's Enforcement Programme Leader commented: "With the publication of Tackling the ivories in 2004, TRAFFIC sounded the first alarm over the use of the internet to trade ivory illegally. 

"While the internet may give illegal online traders a sense of anonymity, the international collaboration between enforcement officers in this case demonstrates that the web is no hiding place for their criminal activities."