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A Balinese Shell Game

Local Cargo Company Officials Interrogated by Police and French Nationals Sought by Interpol Following Foiled Attempt to Smuggle Thousands of Rare Sea Shells.

(10/6/2008) 16 boxes about to be boarded on a departing Qantas flight were intercepted by local authorities who found thousands of rare shells hidden among local handicrafts and textiles. Authorities estimate the value of the protected sea shells to be in the hundreds of millions of Rupiahs (tens of thousands U.S. dollars).

Officers of the Bali Conservation Office (BKSDA), Customs and the Bali Police continue to investigate the thwarted attempt to export rare Triton Trompet and Nautilus Berongga sea shells to Tontouta Airport in Noumea, New Caledonia. The prohibited sea shells were reportedly shipped by a Bali-based shipping company Pacific Express Cargo and mislabeled as fashion accessories and handicrafts in order to evade detection by authorities. According to NusaBali, two employees of the shipping company, manager Wayan Sudiana and marketing executive Komang Sudarsana, are being intensively questioned by authorities regarding their degree of collusion in the attempted criminal exportation and may, in time, be named as criminal suspects.

While the Cargo agency initially denied any knowledge of the sender/recipient of the large quantity of contraband shells, those individuals were eventually identified as Sadrina Fouache who has held exhibitions of "Sea-based art" in New Caledonia, rare shell collector Andre Fouache, and Elizabeth Tuhipoa. Interpol's assistance has been requested to trace the trio.

Police have also determined that the packing of the protected sea shells were carried out at a local hotel in Bali prior to being taken to the airport.

Acting on intelligence provided to the Forestry Police assigned to Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport, the illegal shipment of sea shells were seized on Tuesday morning, September 23, 2008, while waiting to be boarded onto a departing Qantas flight. The shells numbering in the thousands were found by airport authorities concealed among handicrafts and textiles.

Those convicted of being involved in the smuggling attempt of items made of protected wildlife face a maximum imprisonment of 5 years and fines of Rp. 200 million (US$21,500).

Conservation officials suspect the rare shells originated from areas outside of Bali, possibly from Sulawesi and the Maluku islands.