Violin seized at Frankfurt Airport

August 24, 2012 at 04:35 AM · A Guarneri violin was seized at Frankfurt Airport and a huge fine was imposed to be paid before it's release.

The thread at Maestronet has a lot of relevant information for anyone traveling to Europe with an instrument.

Replies (34)

August 24, 2012 at 06:42 AM · Who knew(well obviously professionals) that traveling with an instrument could be such a headache! :/ flying and traveling across boarders is not as fun or easy as it used to be.

August 24, 2012 at 03:15 PM · I have no sympathy for her. Next time get a carnet.

August 24, 2012 at 05:53 PM · Hendrik,

thank you for starting this discussion. I just learned something.

Strangely enough, when crossing a border, I have never been asked to provide any documents, and in many cases not even to open my violin case for visual inspection.

Crossing the US Canadian border on my way back to Canada, the customs officer did not show any interest in the document I obtained when I left my native country. Seizing an instrument is one step too far; but one apparently has to know the law of the country and play by the rules.

It appears that this musician simply happened to meet an overzealous officer.

August 24, 2012 at 09:13 PM · This is scary. I read some of the discussion on maestronet and it's still not entirely clear to me. If you're travelling with your own instrument(s) bows, etc. not intending to sell them. What is it that you're supposed to declare? That it's yours? The value? What documentation should you have with you - the certitifacte? the bill of sale? Does this vary from country to country? Does it vary with your own citizenship?

August 24, 2012 at 10:12 PM · I am sure there are 3 versions to this story, the violinist, the custom officer's and the truth.

Thousands of violinist travel through airports every year without similar incidence.

I know a man whose camera was seized after having it for 5 years because of unpaid tax when passing through customs in EU. They keep a record of everything and it does not matter how many years you had them.

August 25, 2012 at 02:33 AM · To whom was the tax owed? Was it bought for cash somewhere in the EU?

August 25, 2012 at 08:36 PM · I think the complication in this case is that she bought the violin in Japan many years ago and now resides in the EU.

August 25, 2012 at 11:56 PM · So she owes tax to the EU for a violin she bought in Japan?

August 26, 2012 at 04:03 AM · Rafael, it appears that is indeed the regulation. As far as i understand she is now a European resident and the violin is therefore considered an import subject to taxation.

What puzzles me is the time frame involved. Apparently there are exemptions dependent on the number of years passed since the violin came in her possession prior to her move. It seems that she did not have the proper documentation to prove the violin was in her possession a long enough time to qualify for an exemption.

This is what I initially got from the reporting. I haven't been following the thread recently so am not sure if there are more specifics.

It is understandable that residents of a country are being taxed on an instrument they buy abroad.

I certainly had to pay Canadian taxes for bows bought in Europe and the USA. But never had any trouble with my fiddle or bows flying back and forth to Europe for visits. Was I lucky or could I get accused of evading taxes: don't know.

August 26, 2012 at 02:43 PM · It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of abuse people will tolerate from kleptocratic governments.

August 27, 2012 at 07:20 PM · If a resident of the EU imports a violin (or anything else) they have to pay “Input Value Added Tax” when bringing the item into the EU. The tax rate varies, depending upon which EU country one lives. Where I live (in Austria) it is normally 20%, but for a long list of items with a reduced rate (including antique violins) it is 10%.

The lady with the Guarneri has been resident of the EU (according to the Strad magazine) for some 30 years. Apparently she bought this Guarneri some 15 years ago in the Far East (Japan?), and is accused by the authorities of not having paid the “Input Value Added Tax” upon importing it. Rather she seems to have been simply walked through the green “nothing to declare” gate all this time.

Should this transpire to be the case, the normal penalty would be for her to have too belatedly pay the evaded tax, and as a fine, the same amount once again. Further, criminal charges of Tax Evasion could normally be expected.

This is all perfectly normal law, which affects everybody, even those importing the most worthless ebay gargoyles. To anybody with experience in such matters, it can be no surprise whatsoever, that the violin has been impounded, pending sorting out of the details.

In an internet day an age though, this has led to numerous ignorant blog postings, with all the usual disgusting anti-German clichés (Rottweiler etc.), although it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine that the German authorities have acted thoroughly correctly and that the lady has in fact evaded tax (knowingly or unknowingly). This has nothing to do with any “Kleptocratic Government”, rather with entirely disinterested civil servants just doing their job.

I translated the German newspaper article for Maestronet, but since that site is not working at the moment, I reproduce my translation here, for the benefit of people who don’t understand any German:


“The Customs have confiscated my 1million Euro Violin”

By M. Schneider 18.08.2012 – 00.01 o’clock

Frankfurt/Main – She came from Tokio and only wanted to change planes, but Star-violinist Yuzuko Horigome (55) had to travel on to Brussels without her million-violin.


The customs officers accuse the Japanese lady of violating the import regulations. Now, Horigome should pay 190.000 Euros Input Value added Tax, additionally a further 190.000 Euros fine – otherwise she won’t see her instrument again.

Thursday, 16.50 o’clock. Terminal 1. The famous musician (who has played with the Berlin Philharmonic), landed in the All-Nippon plane NH 209, and was to fly on to Brussels, where her husband and children live.

The Customs controllers noticed a violin case by a routine check.

As the officers open the black case, they see a “Josephus Guarnerius Fecit Cremona”

An exquisite collectors item from the 17th. C., made by the famous Violin Maker Joseph Guarneri.

Customs-Spokesperson, Yvonne Schamber: “Ms. Horigome didn’t declare the violin correctly, and couldn’t provide evidence that it had ever been taxed in the European Union”.

The customs had the violin, that the violinist claims to have purchased 15 years ago for 250.000 Euros in the Far East, valued.

Schamber: “She must now beleatedly pay the Input Value Added Tax for Antiques. The instrument has been impounded as an item of evidence, should Ms. Horigome not deposit a caution, it will stay with us”.

It never rains, it pours: The authorities have instigated a criminal proceeding for attempted Tax Evasion.

August 27, 2012 at 08:14 PM · It is so interesting to know the stories from the other side.

August 27, 2012 at 09:28 PM · Interesting. Does anybody know what a US citizen needs to know, do, have prepared, etc. when travelling internationally with instruments?

August 28, 2012 at 03:26 AM · Has she in fact been a resident of Belgium for 30 years? She was a student in Japan until at least 1980, so at *most* it would be 32 years.

Here's a hypothetical question...If a student or something buys it from her and brings it back to Japan will they pay another tariff?

August 28, 2012 at 11:52 AM · Jacob is complete right!


The best way to find out what are the right steps to do in your country is to contact the customs of your own country first. Most customs on the international Airports give out "duty-certificates" wich can varries in all countrys.

Basical informations can be found on their websites as well.

All traveling musicians should look careful for information and regulations first before departure with high valued instruments.

August 28, 2012 at 11:55 AM · @Joseph

It depends what citizen the student is and how the tax and duty regolation for Japan looks like.

August 28, 2012 at 01:23 PM · Thanks for the very informative post, Jacob

August 28, 2012 at 05:13 PM · Sheesh. Next time I want to buy a del Gesu I'm hitting the duty-free shoppe.

August 28, 2012 at 10:28 PM · Really! And if I ever get into trouble with customs, I'll hit the duty-free shop for the booze!

August 31, 2012 at 06:16 PM · The key part here is the change of residence. If you intend to bring a violin (or anything else that has been duty paid in another country besides tobacco, alcohol and other restricted imports) with you as a personal possession to be used during your stay, which you will then take back to your home country afterwards, that is not an issue - you paid US taxes to own your violin in the US, it will be temporarily in the EU for a while and then it will return to the US where tax has been paid, provided it "goes home" it is not taxable. In that situation it is not considered to have been imported.

The tax is due in this case because the violin has been *imported* for tax purposes when the owner took up residence within the EU. If you are coming on a long stay visa of any kind you need to find out how long you can have any possession with you before it is considered to have been imported. If you have ever paid tax on the instrument in any EU country then you should retain evidence of having done so.

Other pitfalls to remember are countries with certain quarantine regulations, for example Australia requires you to declare any items made from wood. You can be fined if you don't tell them you are bringing something that is made of wood. They just want to inspect it for woodworm, which is a no-brainer for fine instruments!

August 31, 2012 at 07:27 PM · Some years ago my daughter went back-packing round the world for a year after she finished her degree. While on an instrument-making course in Australia she made a rather fine didgeridoo. Not wishing to carry the awkward thing around with her for the next four months during her travels in the Far East she mailed it to me in England. When the carrier (TNT, I believe it was) delivered it to me a few weeks later they demanded £49 import duty on the spot before they were allowed to hand it over - they showed me the Customs & Excise documentation. £49 was rather more than mere petty cash for most people 12 years ago. Of course, I had no option but to comply, so out came my cheque book.

September 5, 2012 at 12:53 AM · Import VAT on a genuine Guarneri? Guarneris were made in Cremona Italy. How can a Guarneri be an import to the EU? Indeed, how can even a pre 1900-copy be an import to the EU? I hope somebody gets this message across to the lady in question and that she gets somewhere with this line.

September 6, 2012 at 05:47 AM ·

@John. The tax and duty regulation makes no different with a violin regarding how old it is and who/where made it. The import VAT is also imposed on each goods where the export has been previously done. The country of origin doesn`t matter.

September 6, 2012 at 02:07 PM · When you buy articles of value abroad the exporting country will usually allow you to reclaim the VAT upon leaving - at the customs desk in the airport. You need a form from the seller or a receipt.

Articles sent to you by mail will not even have VAT charged.

However when the goods are entering your own country you will need to pay the VAT/import tax. Evading this is smuggling.

When you buy privately abroad there may not be VAT in that country but you still owe tax upon reentering your own.

These are international agreements as far as I know and probably aimed at stimulating export which is good for the economy of the country selling the product.

With the above in mind there shouldn't be a problem carrying an instrument in and out of a country when just visiting. However there could be an issue if you are being suspected of wanting to sell during your visit and if your instrument is very valuable you may want to check with local customs to know if you need to carry documentation to avoid trouble. So far I have never done this with my "Del Gesu" (no, not an original). I wonder if people have had troubles when just visiting?

September 23, 2012 at 04:31 PM · The Del Gesu is back with it's owner Ms Horigome.

She provided documents to prove she had purchased the violin in Japan in 1986.

According to the news she has been a resident of Belgium for 30 years - that is since 1982.

How she could have been exempted from paying import duties after all is not clear from the article.

October 4, 2012 at 02:52 PM · If you though Ms horigomes story was bad about having her violin seized by customs, check this one out, this poor lady doesnt even own the strad, its a loaner from the nippon music foundation!

German customs seize Stradivarius violin, demand $1.5 million.

German-based Yuki Manuela Janke, 26, was returning home through Frankfurt airport on September 28 when customs officers seized her violin, valued at $7.6 million, Nippon Music Foundation said.

In this new case concerning 26 year old Yuki Manuela Janke the instrument was taken away even after Janke showed her loan contract with the foundation, proof of insurance on the on the instrument, the violin's photograph, and proof that the foundation had legally imported the instrument to Japan.

This is just legalized robbery!!

October 4, 2012 at 05:57 PM · "This is just legalized robbery!! "

It's wiser to wait for the necessary informations instead of ranting and making a fool of yourself.

(In the former case it became clear the german customs were acting correctly.)

Or, if you want to join the germans bashing club: Fetch a few beers and go on.

But not here in this refined forum, please.

October 4, 2012 at 07:49 PM · Tobias Seyb

In the former case it became clear the german customs were acting correctly


I award you both partial credit.

The German customs may have acted as instructed, but that doesn't mean it isn't legalized robbery.

October 4, 2012 at 09:51 PM · " but that doesn't mean it isn't legalized robbery. "

AFAIK the fiddle was returned after the owner had finally presented the required papers.

This isn't exactly robbery.

October 4, 2012 at 09:56 PM · So you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent? And if she had not had the papers with her the violin would have stayed in Germany?

If the violin came into the country and is also leaving the country the assumption has to be of innocence and the violin should be released with a warming.

October 4, 2012 at 10:19 PM · "And if she had not had the papers with her the violin would have stayed in Germany?"

This is the same for all of us. We all have to have the proper papers. After all Violins are people too.

"we don't need no badges, I don't have to show you any stinking badges." or was that badgers. My mother was a Badger; Bishop Badgers.

October 5, 2012 at 02:34 AM · Do they seize every rolex watch? How about every diamond engagement ring? Every original designer wear?? In short, any expensive item that happens to cross the border? Sorry, from the sounds of it, this one was crazy.

October 5, 2012 at 03:35 PM ·

October 5, 2012 at 04:24 PM · They did it again...


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