Chiswick Auctions' managing director William Rouse admitted the breach before Ealing Magistrates Court last week, acknowledging an error of professional judgment - and the need for additional vigilance - but believes his firm has been the victim of an expensive witch hunt.
Chiswick's July 3, 2012, sale offered as lot 282 an item catalogued as 'an antique carved ivory tusk worked as a train of elephants'. It had been taken in over the front desk from a first-time vendor by a valuer who deemed the item to have been 'worked' prior to June 1947, as the law demands. The buyer, at around £100, was Saeed Akhavan, a regular stallholder at Portobello Road.
During a subsequent sweep of the market by special constables from the Wildlife Crime Unit and the Arts and Antiques unit, the carving was confiscated and sent for scientific analysis. The process (costing in the region of £500) showed the tusk was from an elephant that had died in the mid 1960s.
After police learned the source of the illegal carving, Mr Rouse was asked to make a statement at Notting Hill Police Station in April 2013 and, in August this year, he received an email from DC Sarah Bailey of the Wildlife Crime Unit outlining their intention to prosecute.
On October 13 the court imposed a fine of £4500 (close to the maximum fine of £5000 that can be imposed for a single charge of CITES Regulations 1997) but reduced it to £3200 on account of the guilty plea.
Mr Rouse was shocked at the size of the penalty for an isolated incident that earned the auctioneers commissions of around £40.
Anxious to put the matter behind him, he has no plans to appeal (there was a suggestion the matter might be better dealt with by the Crown court), but he maintains the West London firm have been harshly treated in response to a cause célèbre.
He added: "A huge amount of public money has been spent on this matter but to what end? We are still permitted to sell antique ivory and what has it taught us apart from the need to be even more vigilant in a situation where every auction room in the land treads a difficult line?"
Meanwhile Mr Akhavan is unsure if he faces a similar fate for offering the tusk carving for sale at Portobello.
He had a number of items confiscated by the Wildlife Crime Unit in 2012 - the majority returned six months later after analysis confirmed they were bone rather than ivory. Following three visits to the Notting Hill Police Station, he told ATG he is now reluctant to offer ivory for sale again.