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The hunt for 'Baltic gold'

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 01:50

The international amber trade is worth a billion dollars a year - now, local people on the Baltic coast, where 90% of world supplies are found, want a slice of that for themselves, and they're not afraid to break the law. As Elena Casas reports, illegal amber digging can earn people in Kaliningrad ten times the average local salary, but the government wants to clamp down.

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TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~NONE They might not look like much - but these stones are amber, 50 million year old fossilised tree resin. They can be worth more than their weight in gold. Amber diggers in the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad can earn ten times the average salary in a region where unemployment has soared since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) ILLEGAL AMBER DIGGER, SERGEI KHRIPUNOV, SAYING: "This is easy money. We dig here. I came not long ago. I've been digging for about a month here.' The world amber trade is worth a billion dollars a year, and prices have multiplied tenfold in the last decade. 90% of world supplies are found here on the Baltic coast - but less than 25 million dollars of the annual profits find their way back. It's not surprising that local people want a bigger chunk of that money - but their mining is illegal. The government is trying to crack down - saying the extraction is an environmental disaster. Andrei Voyevodin is from the Department of Economic Security (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC SECURITY OF RUSSIAN INTERNAL MINISTRY, ANDREI VOYEVODIN, SAYING: "I would introduce criminal punishment for illegal extraction of amber. As you can see the damage caused by these diggers is massive. Nothing will grow on this land after them and it will be very hard to restore it." A state-owned Amber Factory aims to control the supply, selling to foreign buyers and local craftsmen. But the diggers can sell their finds on the black market for five or six times the official prices. If arrested, they risk fines of up to 5 thousand roubles - that's less than a hundred dollars. And means they are often back the very next day, shovelling through the clay on the hunt for Baltic gold.

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The hunt for 'Baltic gold'

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 01:50