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A Toronto man who once owned a jewellery store in Germany has been charged with illegally importing ivory taken from endangered elephants.

Mohammed Doost was charged after a random training exercise by Canada Customs officers in Halifax turned up one of the largest shipments of elephant ivory ever found in Canada.

More than 4,000 ivory items ranging from tacky cartoon characters to delicately carved statues were seized by the customs officers from a suitcase found in a container on board a ship from Germany last month.

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The charge of violating wild-animal and plant-protection legislation was laid by federal Environment Department officials against Mr. Doost, who is accused of moving the items from Germany in a container filled with household goods. Mr. Doost is believed to be living in Toronto but is on a business trip outside Canada.

If convicted he would face a maximum fine of $25,000 or six months in jail.

Elephants are internationally recognized as an endangered species and Canada does not allow importation of elephant ivory for commercial purposes.

Les Sampson, co-ordinator of the wildlife trade-enforcement section of Environment Canada, said other ivory shipments have been intercepted in Halifax along with items made with other exotic and endangered animals.

But the shipment of 4,000 items valued at about $75,000 is the most significant ivory seizure ever made in Canada, he said.

"We get ivory but what we see most here are sea turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodile and alligator parts," Mr. Sampson told reporters yesterday as he surveyed a table laden with bracelets, bangles, beads and figurines made from the elephant ivory.

The illegal international trade in wildlife around the world is estimated to be worth as much as $5-billion a year.

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Mr. Sampson said it is important to stop the sale of ivory products.

"The problem is that this type of activity is creating a demand for this kind of product," he said. "The main thing we're trying to do is get these products out of circulation so they don't create a demand."

He said the ivory items were destined for Ontario, where they could legally have been sold in gift shops. The most expensive item among those displayed yesterday was a carved elephant with a price tag of $140.

"When you multiply that by thousands of items it adds up very quickly," Mr. Sampson said.

The ivory was discovered by Canada Customs officers who were on a training course in Halifax, said Alonzo MacNeil, chief of marine operations for Canada Customs.

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