Samoan jewelry makers warned: Be aware of import laws

fili@samoanews.com

A Tongan couple’s case was brought to Samoa News’ attention over the weekend by two Samoans living in Honolulu because there is Samoan jewelry made from sea turtle shell and there has to be more vigilant review of such issues in the territory before anyone looks at exporting such jewelry to the US.

A Tongan couple, who are naturalized US citizens, living in Hawai’i, have pled not guilty at the federal court in Honolulu to selling jewelry made from humpback whale and sea turtle bones imported from Tonga without required permits.

The couple, Semisi ‘James’ Muti and Liliani Muti, were each charged with four counts in an indictment handed down Dec. 6 by a federal grand jury in Honolulu. The couple made their initial appearance and were arraigned yesterday afternoon at the Honolulu federal court where each defendant entered not guilty pleas.

Bond is set at $10,000 unsecured for each defendant, according to federal documents, which also show that the couple goes on trial early next year.

According to the 12-page indictment, the defendants operate the Old Hawaii Arts & Crafts business, which specializes in wood/ bone carvings, tapa making. The defendants also sold jewelry, including jewelry made from humpback whale bones at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and they also have a store at the Schofield Barracks Main Exchange.

The US government says there are federal regulations and laws pertaining to these types of exports.

Among the four counts is conspiracy to defraud the US government. And to achieve conspiracy, the indictment alleges that the defendant knowingly imported from Tonga — without first obtaining necessary Tongan export permits or equivalent documents — for jewelry made from bones of humpback whales and green turtles.

At least one shipment was sent from Hawai’i to Japan without obtaining the required export permits from the US. The defendants also sold some of the imported jewelry in Hawai’i and they also lied about the source of the jewelry, the indictment alleges.

The government also alleged several actions by the defendants. For example, in April last year, the defendants caused a shipment of jewelry made from humpback whale bones to be transported from Tonga to the US. The shipment contained about 590 items of jewelry and the shipment arrived in Los Angeles in May of last year. It was then transported to Hawaii.

The indictment also shows that the defendants packed the shipment — which included jewelry made from green sea turtles — and send it to Japan. Additionally, Mrs. Muti received a payment of $5,400 through a wire transfer for the shipment to Japan and her husband had sold some of the jewelry to undercover law enforcement officers for $1,300.

(Samoa News should point out that American Samoa does fall under US federal jurisdiction, with the Marine Mammal Protect Act and Endangered Species Act serving to protect turtles and whales in the Territory’s waters.)

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