Is it really very difficult when coming to the subject of determining the value of tea leaves? What about determining the types and grade of those leaves after a loss incident? How can we recognise tea leaves of higher grade or value from those that are lower in range? What is the difference between the method(s) used in determining the value of wine and those of tea leaves?
WHAT IS EXACTLY DIFFICULT? Tea leaves, gram-for-gram or grade-for-grade, they vary in prices by one or two orders of magnitude and ordinary people, even Chinese folks have difficulty telling the difference. Of course, we do have Chinese tea experts who can tell teas apart, in the same way that wine connoisseurs can, but in any wine claim dispute it is relatively easy to find an expert willing to pontificate in a court. On the other hand when dealing with any tea leaves claim dispute, a mere mention of the word courts to the Chinese equivalent will quickly end the conversation. Even if the experts are willing to do so for the monetary gratification, it is still not so simple – courts normally look towards academic and various high level achievement in research & development works in the subject matter being dispute, especially where both sides are disputing one anothers findings and so on. In reality most tea leaves experts have no established accreditation, not to mention having enough academic and research credentials.
The other areas of difficulty are very much related to the capabilities of forensic experts to determine the level of adulterants within a batch of genuine tea leaves which had already been burned or damaged by water and so on. This is further compounded by the fact that lower grade tea leaves are quite often placed around (or even mixing with) the more valuable ones to camouflage the latter’s existence, so that they could be smuggled across the Singapore/Johor Bahru causeway without paying or paying a lower amount of duty.
It is these very same difficulties forming an inherent part of Chinese tea leaves trade that fraudsters find a leeway and room for manoeuvrability to defraud insurers.
DUBIOUS CLAIMS…. Insurance claims experts have over the last 12 months identified a handful of cases involving tea leaves when claims presented were obviously dubious in nature. Mostly were originated whilst in the course of transit – observable in inland transit (goods-in-transit) and marine cargo risks.
Here are some of the questionable characteristics of claims where detailed investigation should be conducted:
1. A truck travelling late at night on back roads.
2. The truck is old and of low value, not commensurate with the value of the goods said to be carried.
3. Paperwork unconvincing.
4. The place of departure or the place of delivery or both are odd.
5. There is a fire, destroying or complicating the evidence.
6. The goods are of high value.
7. Chinese tea in sea containers, allegedly owned by different insureds and covered by different insurers.
8. Claim where hole was observed at the side of the container, through which water allegedly leaked, spoiling the tea. Sea containers do develop holes, but invariably they are on the top of the container near the corners, where they are impacted by containers placed on top.
9. Sprinkling of high quality tea leaves within and surrounding the damaged stock of tea leaves – a process called “salting” in an attempt to increase the stock’s perceived value and therefore the claimable value.
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Special acknowledgment to Forensic Science Services – for providing some of the major facts utilised within this posting.