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Customs seize million-dollar violin

The Local · 22 Aug 2012, 09:52

Published: 22 Aug 2012 09:52 GMT+02:00

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Belgium-based Yuzuko Horigome was transiting through Frankfurt Airport last week after performing in her home country Japan, the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.

When she tried to walk through the green gate for travellers arriving in the EU with nothing to declare, customs officers stopped her and said she needed to pay €190,000 in duty on her 1741 Guarnerius violin.

On top of this were fines, taking the total cost to an eye-popping €380,000 euros, the Tokyo-based paper said.

Customs confiscated the valuable instrument because she could not provide the documents for her 1986 purchase, the Yomiuri said.

"The instrument is a tool for my work. For musicians, instruments are like parts of your bodies," she told the Yomiuri.

"I have used Frankfurt Airport many times and never had problems like this before. I don't know why this happened."

She has since submitted documents to prove her ownership of the violin, but negotiations have been difficult, the paper said, quoting the musician.

Horigome, who has worked in Europe for three decades, said she would also contact the governments of Japan and Belgium to see if they could help.

A spokesman for the German authorities has suggested that the violin might be returned if it is regarded as necessary for her job, the paper said.

Story continues below…

Guarnerius violins are considered among the world's best, ranked alongside those made by Stradivarius and Amati.

Horigome plays in cities around the world with top conductors and orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:10 August 22, 2012 by bwjijsdtd
We use to call this theft ... now you call it Customs ... the same thing happened to me when I came to Germany in 2002 ... Customs wanted me to pay tax on military metals that had been awarded to me ... I refused ... I never paid and still have my metals ...
12:26 August 22, 2012 by pepsionice
The odds of some customs inspector at Frankfurt picking the right passenger exiting and then going for the violin and making the "discovery"? I've been through the Frankfurt airport at least forty times and never hit on by the inspector. Most of the time....the desks/stations are unoccupied. So I'm going to suggest that they knew this person was coming through, and they knew of the violin ahead of time. Someone reported the person through tips and they just sat and waited for them to make some travel through the airport.
15:43 August 22, 2012 by Repatriated
I recently had a similar case with the German customs officials, but not to the magnitude of Ms. Horigome. When I retired from my US company and moved to Germany my company gave me pair of binoculars as a going-away present. It was subsequently mailed to my address in Germany along with the necessary paperwork and a stated value of $50.

Customs decided to levy a 68 euro duty on the $50 binoculars. I rejected the delivery from UPS on the basis that the customs duty far exceed the value of the binoculars. Subsequently my company was gracious enough to pick up the extra cost and paid the outlandish customs tax and the binoculars were finally delivered.
15:45 August 22, 2012 by BobbyBaxter
German authorities like an easy target to make money from - usually from hard working people who do not have a criminal bone in their body. Very cynical ploy from the authorities - she has my full sympathies.
16:34 August 22, 2012 by michael4096
Recently received a present from my brother-in-law in Japan. Stated value was checked quite openly with various internet sites to make sure that it was real and the parcel was 'inspected' very carefully for drugs etc. can't really complain about that.

However, we had to collect it from the zoll 45km away, find the right room, spend time waiting for all these checking things to happen and in general it cost far more than the present was worth in euros. And, some still question the value of the EC.
16:41 August 22, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
exactly BobbyBaxter. Ane while this was happening some drug dealers were walking through with millions worth of drugs in their suitcase. Best for the German tax man to look for easy money and also buy stolen data from Switzerland. Nothing to do with making Germany safer or any other honourable objective.
02:04 August 23, 2012 by wood artist
Recently I hit customs in FRA, and the agent claimed to have no idea what a voltage converter was. We had a long discussion, approaching an argument, until I pulled out my lap-top power cord and asked him where in Germany I could plug it in. He finally relented, but I can't believe a converter is a particularly strange and unknown item in bags coming from the US.

Customs people seem to do strange things, and seem to do them almost on a whim. No, I didn't have a receipt for it, but then I've had it for years, and it's been in and out of Germany dozens of times. Go figure.

21:54 August 23, 2012 by SchutzenschnurinGold
During the Cold War, when the Soviets started harassing the US crews at customs on diplomatic flights to Moscow; the harassment included long delays and in-depth searches not even the TSA practices. The US retaliated by treating the Soviet aircrews similarly. A short time after the retaliation commenced, the Soviets ceased the harassment.

I suggest Belgium and Japan commence similar treatment of German musicians. The Zoll will be ordered to cease such actions immediately.

I also agree with the above comment about having to drive a good distance away from where we were staying, find the correct room, and negotiate the fee on a painting from a non-commercial artist friend.
18:44 August 24, 2012 by almorr
I am glad I took up playing the piano, not the violin or double bass, if you are a concert pianist you don't have, and cannot carry around with you a large concert grand piano as it will always be at the concert hall that you will be playing in.
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