A 175kg block of pounamu seized by Customs officials was returned to West Coast Maori today, amid a crackdown on illegal trade in the Ngai Tahu-owned stone.
A boulder seized in December 2010 was symbolically returned today at a ceremony on a Christchurch marae, amid warnings from both Customs and the tribe that the export of raw or processed jade is illegal. It has been illegal for over 60 years, unless consented by the Minister of Customs and with the written approval of West Coast Ngai Tahu.
The boulder was being sold by a South Island jeweller to a customer in China for $7000. When Customs staff inspected it, they found it was still in raw form. Further checks found the sender had not even applied for export approval, and the pounamu was subsequently seized.
Ngai Tahu kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon said the return of the boulder was a statement "about the importance of pounamu to Ngai Tahu and to New Zealand as a cultural icon", and commended Customs.
The West Coast runanga, Ngati Waewae of Arahura and Makaawhio of Bruce Bay, said today they were working with Ngai Tahu, Customs and others to stem the illegal flow of pounamu from the West Coast "on a number of fronts".
The tribe is also currently talking to the mining community and developing agreements with Minerals West Coast and the West Coast Commercial Gold Miners' Association to address what happens to pounamu which is regularly unearthed during mining in the Hokitika district.
Miners are being asked to stockpile it, so it can be returned to Ngai Tahu.
The law preventing the export of raw pounamu was introduced in 1947.
It does not apply to small pieces of jewellery, or rocks less than 5kg. However, pieces more than 50 years old are controlled.
Two years ago, police raided two Hokitika jade shops and seized
millions of dollars of stolen South Westland pounamu. A court subsequently ordered its return to Ngai Tahu.
In 2010, Trade Me took down listings of 'snowflake' pounamu after being warned that the trade was illegal.
In the past two years Customs have made nine interceptions for pounamu weighing almost 300kg in total.