Federal prosecutors in San Francisco have launched a criminal investigation into allegedly illegal import of crocodile products from Singapore, in this case a French-made Hermes crocodile handbag worth as much as $55,000.
They feds aren’t talking and there is no indictment, but court papers jointly filed May 25 by the government and defense indicate a criminal investigation is “currently open and on-going” and may involve Goh Tek Ting, a Singapore exporter, and Alexis Aiken, the U.S. importer. Both were named in a separate forfeiture action. Both sides asked to delay hearing the civil forfeiture proceeding while any potential criminal issue is sorted out.
The Fish and Wildlife Service seized a saltwater crocodile Hermes designer handbag in the Oakland Federal Express facility in 2009. Saltwater crocodiles from Papua, New Guinea have been listed as endangered since 1975, according to the court papers. The paperalso s indicate it is illegal to import any wildlife without filing a US Fish and Wildlife Service export clearance and an international export certificate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. (CITES)
The bag was listed on the FedEx airbill as a “calf leather tote bag” with a value of $280, according to the filing. Customs officials say such bags are appraised at nearly $30,000 to $55,000, the forfeiture papers state.
Ting allegedly contacted a FWS agent in 2009 to say he got the bag from a Singapore pawnshop for $2,000 and it was “genuine Hermes” but he didn’t know it was crocodile skin, according to the government.
Later that year Ting allegedly produced a CITES export certificate he said was from the original purchaser in an effort to get the bag returned. The government didn’t bite. The fate of the bag is still in the hands of the government and criminal charges still appear to be on the table.
Case: US v. One Saltwater Crocodile Hermes Designer Handbag, No. C10-2696SBA