Russian traffic police have busted a caviar smuggling operation after stopping a speeding hearse with half-a-ton of black caviar hidden in a coffin.
The driver of the funeral home vehicle told police that he was transporting a dead woman to the far-eastern city of Khabarovsk, but upon inspection it turned out that "there was no dead body in the car," regional police said in a statement.
Policemen found plastic containers with caviar under the funeral wreaths and even inside the coffin, with the total haul amounting to 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds).
The prized delicacy -- the salt-cured eggs of sturgeon fish that were originally found mainly in the Caspian Sea -- fetches around $100 for a tiny 125 gramm jar.
Catching the fish in the wild has been banned as sturgeon numbers have dropped perilously low after over-fishing during the Soviet era and only farmed caviar is legal to sell.
Poaching, however, remains a major problem and smuggling is thought to be widespread.
Police footage from the night time raid showed officers pick through the hearse's cargo, holding up tupperware containers with the greenish-black fish roe inside.
The officers then pry the lid off a purple coffin with frilly trim to reveal several tightly wrapped packages with more caviar inside.
The driver and his accomplice swore they had no idea they were loaded with an illegal caviar cargo instead of a corpse, according to the police statement.
A man had approached them, asking to come and pick up the coffin and drive it to a morgue, paying them 25,000 rubles ($400, 360 euros) and "the coffin was loaded into the hearse by men they didn't know", it added.