Slovak authorities have detained four Ukrainians who allegedly smuggled more than $722,000 worth of raw amber into the country.
A combined stash of nearly 700 kilograms of the semiprecious gemstone was found in the trunks of three vehicles with Ukrainian license plates on November 12, the criminal service of the Slovak Financial Department told state-run TASR news agency last weekend.
All four Ukrainian nationals were detained in the city of Kosice and are currently in custody following a November 15 court appearance.
If found guilty, the unnamed suspects face four to 10 years in prison for not paying 130,000 euros ($140,000) in duties on the amber.
Transporting amber into Slovakia is legal but it must be declared with the customs office, which in this case wasn't done.
According to the Slovak police, two of the suspects have been deported in the past over the smuggling of tobacco products.
Valuable deposits of amber are found across Ukraine, particularly in the wooded northwestern region known as Polissya. About 90 percent of the fossilized tree resin in Ukraine is extracted illegally using crude techniques that devastate the forest and cause environmental damage.
The illicit trade in amber is lucrative and pays far more than legal occupations like farming or police work.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on September 30 said his cabinet had completed drafting a law on the prohibition of exporting raw amber and that it had been sent to parliament for consideration.