World's most expensive racing pigeon gets snared in China tax dispute

Champion bird bought for €75,000 spends extra month in Beijing quarantine after row

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 8:48am

Feathers are flying after Chinese authorities seized hundreds of Belgian pigeons, including Bolt, the world's most expensive racer, sold for €310,000 (HK$3.25 million) 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 yesterday.

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 per cent of the value and, on top of that, a tax of 13 per cent is levied, meaning China was due around €75,000 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 negotiate.

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 said.

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.

"He will have a good retirement. He will have a very nice pigeon loft and he will see a lot of female pigeons," Gyselbrecht said.