Trafficking in glass eels: dismantling of international trafficking network by investigators from Bordeaux
These illegal transports and exports of 46 tonnes of glass eels in total represent a very lucrative traffic amounting to 18.5 million euros to date. At the origin of this dismantling, a seizure of the customs of Arcachon.
This international traffic went through France and Spain before leaving for Asia via the countries of the East.
Seizure of Arcachon customs officers
The investigation carried out by the judicial customs officers of the SEJF (judicial investigation and finance service) of Bordeaux and the gendarmes of the OCLAESP (central office for the fight against attacks on the environment and public health) strengthened by the research brigade of Saintes (Charente-Maritime), under the direction of the JIRS of Bordeaux (specialized inter-regional jurisdiction), begins following two customs findings, according to a press release from the Ministry of the Economy and Finance this Friday June 11.
In 2017, during roadside checks, customs officers in Arcachon and Roissy seized respectively 792 kg gross of glass eels intended for illegal export to China and 200 kg of contraband glass on their way to Thailand. The same network then seems to link these two seizures according to the first conclusions of the investigators of Bordeaux (SEJF).
At the same time, the gendarmes of OCLAESP supported by the nautical brigade of Saintes, investigating this theme, were brought to cross the elements of their investigation with those of the SEJF.
Consequently, the JIRS of Bordeaux has entrusted these two services with national competence with the continuation of the investigations, the fight against the crime related to the environment being in particular part of their attributions. Bordeaux customs investigators will not be more precise on the location of illegal catches during controls because the investigation is still ongoing.
3,000 to 4,000 euros per kilogram of glass eels
For several years, France has been confronted with illegal fishing and trade in the European “Anguilla Anguilla” eel. In 30 years, the European eel population has fallen by 75%. This decline has multiple causes including these illegal activities.
Demand for European eel has exploded in South-East Asia, after the virtual disappearance of the Asian eel linked to its overfishing. Smugglers continue to feed this clientele ready to pay 3,000 to 4,000 euros per kilogram of glass eels. The smugglers’ margin can then be multiplied by 10.
Since the 2000s, the European eel has been considered an endangered species. Since 2007, the European Union has imposed an eel management plan on each state.
Since 2009, the species has also been protected from overexploitation by the Washington Convention. As such, in 2010, European regulations set restrictive measures for its trade and prohibited its import and export within the European Union. Its intra-community circulation remains authorized under cover of a proof of origin.
French wholesalers arrested
In this context, the SEJF and OCLAESP have uncovered a pattern of fraud based on complex logistical and financial circuits, requiring numerous and lengthy documentary operations, in particular banking, as well as telephone data based on judicial cooperation. important international. Police cooperation at European level, via EUROPOL, was also decisive in tackling this international trafficking.
These investigations reveal that the glass eels collected by French wholesalers were transported to Spain to be collected there. They were then sent to Asian countries with a strong demand for this product, notably via logistics platforms set up in Eastern countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland).
These illegal transports and exports, totaling 46 tonnes of glass eels, were masked by the use of false documents implying the sending of other species (shrimps, conger eels, carp). In addition, several international investigations, in Bulgaria and Spain, have made it possible to apprehend the mechanism for laundering the proceeds of this very lucrative traffic, amounting to 18.5 million euros, to date.
Front companies in Europe and Asia
The investigations demonstrated the use of shell companies created in Europe and in tax havens (Ireland, Panama), the complicity of companies established in China and Thailand and the use of retro-commissions through contracts on transactions between the Africa and Asia.
A first phase of arrests in September 2019 confirmed these fraudulent schemes and led to the indictment of nine French fishmongers and intermediaries while simultaneous searches were carried out in Spain and Bulgaria.
The second phase took place at the beginning of 2021, allowing the Spanish managers of a transport company to be indicted as well as one of the main instigators of this traffic, also of Spanish nationality.
In a press release from the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery and Olivier Dussopt, Minister Delegate in charge of Public Accounts, congratulate the customs officers of the SEJF de Bordeaux and the gendarmes of OCLAESP for the dismantling of international traffic in glass eels.