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The operation was coordinated by Europol and Eurojust. (Photo: Guardia Civil)

International illegal eel trafficking network dismantled

Click on the flag for more information about Spain SPAIN
Wednesday, March 08, 2017, 22:30 (GMT + 9)

In collaboration with several European security forces, the Spanish Civil Guard has dismantled a network dedicated to illegal eel trafficking, being the largest operation of the European Union in this matter.

Coordinated by Europol and Eurojust, and involving Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and the United Kingdom, the operation ended in joint actions in Spain and Greece, where 17 people were arrested.

Eight people were arrested in Tarragona, Seville and Valencia, and nine others in Greece. They all belonged to an international organization dedicated to illegal eel trade, earning EUR 7 million per year.

Detainees are charged with alleged smuggling, faked documents, wildlife harm and money laundering, all under the structure of Criminal Organization.

Among the detainees in Spain there are two Chinese citizens linked to the payment system known as "Hawala", "Chop" or "Fei-Ch'ien", through which the organization would have received part of the cash from Hong Kong for the sale of eels and directly from citizens of Chinese nationality settled and with business in Spain. In this way, they managed to avoid the international transfer of money, thereby reducing commissions and avoiding fiscal control as well as that from financial control authorities.

In addition, about two tonnes of live animals have been seized, and nine records have been made in Spain in homes and business premises involving computerized means, documentation of illicit activity, high-end vehicles, more than EUR 300,000 in cash and in small gold ingots.

To this amount there must be added about EUR 240,000 that were intervened during a check when network members were coming from a meeting with the Chinese citizens that were arrested, responsible for the delivery of cash through the system described above.

Abaia operation began last June when Ucoma members of the Civil Wildlife Protection Service (SEPRONA) of the Civil Guard became aware that a Tarragona company dedicated to the eel sector could be illegally exporting them. It should be noted that this company had already been investigated in 2012 (Suculenta Operation) for the same reason.

Once the first steps were taken, the agents could verify that this company could continue exporting glass eels (fry of the species Anguilla anguilla) using other countries of the EU to avoid being detected.

With the information obtained by the Civil Guard, a meeting took place last July in the headquarters of Europol in The Hague, which defined the action taking place in each of the affected countries.

The species Anguilla anguilla, or European eel, is included in Appendix II of CITES Convention, which implies that under certain requirements it may be marketed with the corresponding permits.

In the EU it was considered that its inclusion in that Appendix did not mean it was adequately protected and therefore, in 2010 the export of this product to third countries was banned.

Sales within Europe are of the smallest size and it appears they did not affect the survival of the species. However, the final destination outside the European borders may lead to the disappearance of the European eel.

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