Eight “aphrodisiac” rhino horns probably tripled in value since their seizure three years ago at Shannon Airport, a court heard yesterday.
At the time of the discovery, the combined value of the horns was €492,160.
But expert valuer George Mealy of Co Laois-based Mealy Fine Arts yesterday told Ennis District Court “rhino horns today are worth more in weight than gold”.
The Castlecomer dealer said rhino horns had a value of €20,000 per kilogramme in 2010, at the time of the airport detection, but had since climbed to €60,000 per kilogramme today.
This valuation gives the eight horns a combined value of about €1.47m.
Two brothers, Michael O’Brien, aged 28, and Jeremiah O’Brien, aged 33, of Roches Rd, Rathkeale, Limerick yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of illegal importation of the horns.
They were each fined €500.
Solicitor John Cussen, representing both defendants, said: “The black market on rhino horns is based on extraordinary superstition in the East where these horns are seen to have somewhat magical properties — that they are seen as an aphrodisiac and enhance sexual performance.”
Michael O’Brien pleaded guilty to the illegal importation of four horns worth €260,400, while Jeremiah O’Brien pleaded guilty to illegally importing €231,760 worth of rhino horns.
Dermot Twohig, a member of the Revenue Commissioner’s Dublin Investigations unit, said the defendants’ luggage had been searched in Shannon on their arrival from Faro in Portugal in Jan 2010.
Solicitor Mr Cussen said: “These were not from freshly killed rhinos. They are not raw horns. They are antique and they are no later than 1960.”
He said his clients had taken the horns from a Portuguese antique dealer, a “Mr Hernandez”, to work on them and they were going to return them.
Both clients, married with children, have no previous convictions and travel widely in Europe as antique dealers, the solicitor said.
“They are not in good circumstances and live time to time in caravan parks in France and Germany.”
“Mr Hernandez had a very high regard for them — otherwise it would have been very unlikely he would not have put in trust two items to the value of €500,000.”
Judge Patrick Durcan said that the most important aspect of the case was that the rhino horns were antique and not raw.
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