German customs seized a $1.2 million violin from a Japanese professional musician and are demanding she pay almost $500,000 to get it back, reports said on Wednesday.
Belgium-based Yuzuko Horigome was transiting through Frankfurt Airport last week after performing in 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 euros in duty on her 1741 Guarnerius violin.
On top of this were fines, taking the total cost to an eye-popping 380,000 euros ($475,000), the Tokyo Shimbun said.
Customs confiscated the valuable fiddle 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 Asahi Shimbun said, quoting the musician.
Horigome, who has worked in Europe for three decades, was also contacting the governments of Japan and Belgium to see if they could help, the Tokyo Shimbun said.
A spokesman for the German authorities has suggested that the violin might be returned if it is regarded as necessary for her job, the Yomiuri said.
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 London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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