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Europol seized 15 million eels from criminal smuggling gangs last year

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Europol seized 15 million eels

Fifteen million endangered eels were seized from traffickers by Europol last year, the EU’s law enforcement agency has revealed.

During a presentation yesterday at the Sustainable Eel Group’s 10-year anniversary event in London, the policing organisation said it had arrested 153 eel smugglers over the past 12 months, which was up 50% on the previous year.

Most of the arrests were made in Spain, France and Portugal, Europol said, adding that law enforcement agencies in those countries have been at the forefront of efforts to disrupt the illicit European eel smuggling trade.

A spokesperson for Europol told reporters that five criminal cases are currently ongoing in the US after the discovery of eel meat from Asia that was found to contain the DNA of European breeds.

Jose Antonio Alfaro Moreno said the agency and its partners are using new technology that allows investigators to monitor the DNA of eels sold by Asian distributors to establish whether their stock has been sourced illegally from Europe.

It is estimated that eels worth an estimated €3 billion ($3.36 billion) are smuggled every year.

Huge quantities of European eels are trafficked by smugglers annually to countries in Asia, where their meat is considered a delicacy and domestic stocks are too low to meet local demand.

Once shipped out of EU member states, baby eels are grown to adult size before being either sold locally or exported to buyers in the US, Canada and Europe.

Eel stocks have been declining sharply across Europe since the 1970s, and are thought to have fallen by as much as 95% over the past 45 years or so.

The Sustainable Eel Group estimates that as many as 350 million European eels are trafficked illegally to countries in Asia such as Japan every year, which is the equivalent of nearly a quarter of the total number of glass eels entering European waters annually.

Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group, commented: “Trafficking of the European eel is the world’s great wildlife crime in both traded individuals and market value.

“It affects 25% of the total stock of European eel and is hampering the recovery of this precious species. It is therefore vital that we stop all smuggling because it undermines every single effort used to establish adequate protection from other human impacts.”

In April of last year, Portuguese and Spanish police arrested 10 members of an organised crime gang who are said to have made more than €37 million smuggling hundreds of kilos of glass eels out of Europe to Asia.

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Police in Ohio arrest 104 people in major crackdown on sex trafficking

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crackdown on sex trafficking

Undercover police in Ohio have arrested 104 people in an operation targeting the perpetrators of sex trafficking across the US state.

The three-day effort, which involved officials from more than 30 law enforcement agencies and social service organisations, resulted in 53 felony arrests, and 26 detentions relating to crimes committed against children.

In a statement, the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said a portion of the operation focussed specifically on those seeking to engage in sexual activity with individuals they believed to be children.

“You don’t know when a man buys sex whether it’s genuine consent or, rather, the victim is being forced with a baseball bat, a knife or the next hit of heroin,” Yost said.

“When you hear a man talking about buying sex, he never says, ‘I’m buying a woman’.

“He talks about a whore, a slut, a piece – and that’s because saying what is really happening is too close to the truth for them to handle. People who think and talk like that know in their heart of hearts – it’s slavery.”

Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Director James Mackey said that one of the most effective ways to combat human trafficking is to go after the buyers of sex, without whom human traffikerrs would have no business.

The effort involved undercover police officers carrying out sting operations on the buyers of sexual services in a bid to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that US authorities are investigating a trio of websites over allegations they may have been used to facilitate human trafficking, prostitution and money laundering.

The probe into EroticMonkey.ch, Eros.com and RubMaps.ch comes more than a year after the closure of Backpage.com, a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking.

In April of last year, US authorities charged Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.

It was reported at the time that the website had made it owners in excess of $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work, with profits laundered through non-related businesses.

The US National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by charity Polaris, saw reports of trafficking cases rise by 25% between 2017 and last year.

Nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, of which 7,859 were sex trafficking related, according to Polaris.

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Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader who evaded capture for years

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Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has revealed that police in the Philippines have arrested a major illicit wildlife trader who had evaded authorities in the country for a number of years.

A joint “buy-bust operation” conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division (NBI-EnCD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Philippine Operation Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (DENR-POGI) resulted in the detention of the man, who is said to have had traded wildlife online without the required permits.

As well as arresting the trader, investigators seized several animals, including three Peregrine Falcons, two Eclectus Parrots, six African Spurred Tortoises and two Green Iguanas.

The man, who the NBI had been pursuing for three years, is reported to have gone to great lengths to avoid capture, cancelling deals with online customers if he became suspicious that they might be linked to law enforcement authorities.

Trading wildlife online since 2014, the man would refuse to meet his customers in person, and only dealt with those whom he had developed long term relationships.

He is now expected to face a range of charges relating to the possession and trading of wildlife products that carry a maximum jail term of four years and a fine of up to PHP300,000 ($843).

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s Director for Southeast Asia, commented: “Catching illegal online traders is like trying to snatch shadows, so this is a big win for the Philippine authorities, and we congratulate them.

“This case should also serve as motivation for all Southeast Asian wildlife enforcement agencies that are grappling with the scourge of online wildlife trafficking.

“Persistence does pay off. Traffic hopes this case will make others think twice about trading wildlife online illegally.”

In August, Traffic published a report that highlighted the role the internet plays in the illicit trade in wildlife products.

The study, which focussed on China’s experiences of attempting to crack down on the online sale of such items, examined the policies and measures used to address wildlife cybercrime in the EU, Kenya, the US, and several key international associations.

“Due to the transnational nature of illegal wildlife trade, efforts to combat it on the internet should not be limited to China and its cyberspace,” the report said.

“As early as 2013, monitoring of online advertising of illegal ivory products targeted at EU countries revealed illegal ivory advertisements and online auctions of ivory worth more than a €1 million $1.12 million) in 10 EU countries.

“In recent years, more cases of illegal wildlife trade online have been reported around the world. These new features raise new challenges in enhancing law enforcement.

“Preliminary research published by INTERPOL in June 2017 also revealed that illicit wildlife trade is ‘infiltrating’ into the dark net.”

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Farmer jailed for smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia

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smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia

A farmer has been jailed for risking the biosecurity of Australia by smuggling garlic into the country from locations including the US, Canada and France.

Letetia Anne Ware, 53, was handed an 11-month prison term after being convicted of illegally importing more than 2,000 garlic bulbs into the country in contravention of Australia’s strict biosecurity rules.

The importation of garlic into Australia is tightly regulated owing to the fact that some varieties of the plant can carry the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, which is considered to be one of the gravest threats to flora biodiversity in the country.

In order to be brought into Australia legitimately, shipments of garlic must be managed by licensed importers, and accompanied with official certification that proves they are free from pests and diseases.

Ware, who stepped down from her role as the Chair of the Australian Garlic industry Association (AGIA) after pleading guilty to the crime of which she was convicted, is said to have used numerous eBay accounts to order shipments of garlic from France, South Korea, Canada and the US.

Over an 18-month period, Ware imported a total of 21 consignments of garlic, on occasion telling exporters to mislabel the contents of packages as “office supplies” to avoid the attention of customs inspectors.

Hobart Supreme Court was told that Ware was fully aware of the rules relating to the biosecurity threat posed by the garlic she smuggled into the country as she had previously held an import licence for mushrooms.

She will be eligible for parole after two months, provided she hands over a A$2,000 ($1,337) fine.

The maximum penalty for illegally importing garlic into Australia is 10 years behind bars and a fine of up to A$300,000.

In a statement, the AGIA said: “The board strongly condemns any behaviour that jeopardises biosecurity or the Australian agricultural industry

“We ask for the patience and support of all our members and urge them not to contribute or participate in the ongoing perception that the AGIA board or Association were in anyway connected, or knew of, Letetia’s illegal activities…

“We understand that many garlic growers are concerned for the safety of their own crops, and can take some level of relief that Justice Gleeson found that this imported garlic was not diseased.”

In August, an Australia court jailed two men for illegally importing pig semen from Denmark in shampoo bottles.

Director of pig farm GR Pork Torben Soerensen and the company’s breeding manager Henning Laue were jailed for a minimum of 18 months and eight months respectively at Perth District Court.

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