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Russian police stumble upon massive caviar bust

After stopping a speeding hearse on an east Russian highway, police found a half-ton stash of caviar inside. Russian authorities have struggled against illegal fishing, with caviar-producing fish nearly depleted.

The hearse was said to be heading north from a road near the far-eastern city of Khabarovsk, not far from the Chinese border, Russia's Interior Ministry reported on Tuesday.

When police looked inside of the vehicle they saw - hidden under wreaths - plastic containers filled with caviar. They then opened the hearse's casket, only to find more caviar. Five hundred kilograms (1,100 pounds) were seized in total.

Two men working for a funeral director were in the car. They claim to have been duped, hired by a man near Khabarovsk who asked them to take his deceased female relative to a city morgue.

They were offered 25,000 rubles ($400) for the task.

Police are looking into the source of the caviar and contemplating charges for illegal production and distribution.

Russia strictly regulates the production of caviar. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, levels of wild sturgeon - the species of fish capable of producing the roe that is turned into the delicacy - have dropped precipitously due to illegal fishing.

There are only 50 legal sturgeon farms in Russia. Otherwise only indigenous peoples of Russia's north can obtain permits to fish for sturgeon and produce caviar.

Regardless, poaching and smuggling is considered to be widespread. A small jar of the rare caviar can fetch up to $100.

jtm/kms (AFP, AP)

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