China impounds 1,200 racing pigeons from Belgium in tax dispute

Bolt the pigeon
Image caption Bolt was released and is living with his new owner in Beijing

Customs officials in China have impounded 1,200 racing pigeons in a dispute over import duties.

The pigeons had been bought by Chinese fanciers at auction in Belgium and reports say they have been in official custody since July.

The world's most expensive racer, Bolt - sold to a Chinese businessman for 310,000 euros (£260,000) - was among 400 released last week in a settlement.

Chinese media says each pigeon was declared at only 99 euros.

Chinese import duties are levied at 10% of the value of goods and, on top of that, there is a further value-added-tax of 13%.

That means China was due 75,000 euros (£62,690;$101,283) for Bolt alone.

Reuters reports that Bolt and 400 other birds were released last Thursday after a "symbolic sum" was paid - but the others are still in custody.

Named after the Olympic gold-winning Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the bird was bred by celebrated Belgian pigeon fancier Leo Heremans.

It was auctioned in May by the Belgian pigeon traders Pigeon Paradise (PIPA).

Its release was secured after PIPA's chief executive Nikolaas Gyselbrecht flew to Beijing to negotiate.

Pigeon racing is a popular sport in China. The breeding of top racing pigeons is also a lucrative business.

The Belgian embassy is said to have stepped in to help resolve the dispute.

Bolt, who is now living in Beijing with his new owner, will not take part in racing but will be used for breeding.

"He will have a good retirement. He will have a very nice pigeon loft and he will see a lot of female pigeons," Mr Gyselbrecht told the Reuters news agency.

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