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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

$600,000 in Caviar Seized

Police seized almost half a ton of contraband caviar worth an estimated $600,000 as it was being smuggled through a military airfield in black garbage bags, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

Following a tip-off, police intercepted the 460 kilograms of caviar at Chkalovsky airfield, near Moscow, to which it had been flown from the Far East city of Khabarovsk, Interior Ministry spokesman Yury Sinyutin said.

"In order to get this much black caviar, poachers caught and destroyed more than 23 tons of sturgeon, themselves worth around 10 million rubles [$400,000]," Sinyutin said.

Environmentalists say sturgeon, from which caviar is produced, are on the verge of extinction.

Television pictures showed the caviar stored in metal and plastic buckets wrapped in garbage bags. Sinyutin said the contraband was transported without proper documents, stored in unsanitary conditions, and came from illegally caught fish.

Overfishing, poaching, pollution, poor management and corrupt law enforcement have cut sturgeon stocks so severely that experts say the beluga species is on the verge of extinction after falling 90 percent in the past 20 years.

Beluga caviar, a symbol of ostentatious wealth and dining luxury, costs about $1,800 for 1 kilogram in Moscow markets, versus ?3,700 ($7,500) in London.

Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a leading contender for president in 2008, on Friday spoke favorably of a ban on sturgeon fishing.

He said he could live without the delicacy if a ban helped replenish stocks.