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Tone Deaf? Musician claims feds destroyed rare flutes at airport

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Shown here is musician Boujemaa Razgui. (Courtesy of The Boston Camerata)

Everyone's a critic. 

A Canadian musician claims that U.S. Customs officials seized and destroyed 11 rare flutes as he passed through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport last week. The reason? Concerns they were an ecological threat. 

The charge from Boujemaa Razgui, who is based in the U.S., has drawn widespread attention -- in the U.S., in Canada, and particularly in the music community. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, though, is disputing the claim that the agency destroyed instruments. Rather, a spokesman told FoxNews.com they only destroyed a handful of fresh bamboo stalks, "per USDA regulations," out of concern that they could be carrying pathogens harmful to the environment. 

But if Razgui's claim is true, it wouldn't be the first time the government has seized musical materials. Federal agents staged a series of raids on Gibson Guitar factories in 2009 and 2011 out of concern that shipments of wood for fingerboards violated an obscure federal law. 

Razgui could not be reached for comment on Friday to respond to CBP's claims. But he has told colleagues and the press that federal agents did indeed destroy his flutes. 

In an interview with Canada's Globe and Mail, he said he was traveling back from Madrid to Boston, via New York, when the incident happened. His bags never reached Boston, and he later found out they had been searched in New York. 

Razgui said he was carrying 13 instruments, including 11 flute-like instruments called neys, along with dried bamboo. He claims he was told those "agricultural products" were destroyed. 

"These instruments are priceless to me. I make them with my own hands and I can't make a living without them," he told the Globe and Mail. He said he's been traveling with his instruments for years, and "nothing like this has ever happened." 

Razgui and CBP are telling very different stories. 

While Razgui claims that even the raw bamboo was dried, CBP claims the stalks were fresh (which would make them illegal to bring in). And CBP says agents only dealt with "fresh green bamboo canes" they found in his luggage -- no instruments -- after it was brought to their attention by the airline. 

"Fresh bamboo is prohibited from entering the United States to prevent the introduction of exotic plant pathogens," a spokesperson told FoxNews.com. "The fresh bamboo canes were seized and destroyed in accordance with established protocols to prevent the introduction of plant pathogens into the United States." 

Bamboo canes, under federal law, are supposed to be dried and processed so they can't harbor pests or diseases. CBP says processed instruments typically are admissible under the law. 

It's unclear whether agents simply confused Razgui's instruments -- which he makes by hand -- with the rest of the bamboo, or whether there might have been another bag, yet unaccounted for. 

But the incident has caught the attention of the music community. 

Among the groups he plays with is The Boston Camerata. Their artistic director, Anne Azéma, told FoxNews.com in an email that the instruments "have been important to us, as well as to Boujemaa, as they have often contributed to our concert and recording work." 

"Boujemaa is a skilled and versatile musician," she wrote, forwarding a clip of Razgui playing a haunting song from the Balkans (click here, Track 13). 

He has played with the Boston group as well as Camerata Mediterranea for more than a decade. 

Norman Lebrecht, a London-based writer who originally broke the story on his music site Slipped Disc, said on his site that Razgui "does appear to be the victim of state injustice." 

The controversy comes after federal agents went after Gibson over its guitar fingerboards. 

The issue in that case was not environment-related, but rather the nature of the labor. Under the federal Lacey Act, it is illegal to import plant products, including wood, exported in violation of another country's laws. 

The disputed shipments of wood from Madagascar and India to Gibson were deemed illegal because they were unfinished -- something those countries prohibited. In the Indian case, court documents said one intercepted shipment was "falsely" labeled as finished when it wasn't. 

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said last year that the U.S. government essentially went after his company because the work wasn't being done in India.