* Chinese authorities say thousands of euros owed in import
* Belgian ambassador tries to negotiate release of pigeons
* Popularity of pigeon racing surges in China
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Sept 29 Feathers are flying after
Chinese authorities seized hundreds of Belgian pigeons,
including Bolt, the world's most expensive racer, sold for
310,000 euros ($419,800) earlier this year.
Bolt was released last Thursday, together with 400 of his
feathered friends, but a further 1,200 racing pigeons are still
captive because of a dispute over import duties.
The Belgian ambassador to Beijing is in talks to try to free
the rest, the Belgian foreign ministry said on Sunday.
Chinese authorities have said the birds were declared at
only nominal values, meaning China would be losing out massively
on tax and import duties.
Import duties are 10 percent of the value and, on top of
that, a tax of 13 percent is levied, meaning China was due
around 75,000 euros for Bolt alone.
Bolt the pigeon, named after the Olympic gold-winning
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, is worth so much in part because
he was bred by the celebrated Belgian pigeon fancier Leo
Heremans. In 2012, Bolt was the swiftest pigeon in Belgium,
where racing rules are especially strict.
He was auctioned in May by the Belgian pigeon traders PIPA,
short for Pigeon Paradise, and his release was secured after
PIPA's chief executive Nikolaas Gyselbrecht flew to Beijing to
The Chinese authorities agreed PIPA was free of any blame
and therefore released the 401 birds to their buyers after "a
symbolic sum" was paid, Gyselbrecht told Reuters. Under Chinese
law, he said the authorities could have exacted a huge payment
equal to the birds' total value of more than a million euros.
Beijing authorities could not immediately be reached for
Gyselbrecht said the Belgian and Beijing authorities are
trying to find one party to represent the many buyers of all the
other birds to simplify negotiations.
So far the pigeons have spent two months in captivity,
rather than the standard one month in quarantine.
Bolt is well and living in Beijing with his new owner, but
he was fortunate.
"Of the 401 pigeons, four died. Luckily they were not the
most expensive. The most expensive that died was worth 2,000
euros," Gyselbrecht said.
Bolt's racing days are done. As a homing pigeon, if he were
allowed to fly, he would try to head back to Belgium, so he will
only be used for breeding in China, where pigeon racing has
surged in popularity.
"He will have a good retirement. He will have a very nice
pigeon loft and he will see a lot of female pigeons,"
($1 = 0.7385 euros)
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)