July 28th, 2017
A pan-European operation led by Europol into illegal fishing activities has netted 48 suspects and 4,000 kg of a critically endangered species of eel.
Operation LAKE aims to dismantle organised criminal networks involved in the trafficking of endangered species within the EU, and involved law enforcement from France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, as well as Eurojust.
Operational activity during the 2016-2017 fishing season focused on the trafficking of Glass Eels, called so because of the transparency of their bodies.
The term ‘glass eels’ usually refers to an intermediary stage in the life cycle of the European eel, which is listed as critically endangered in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Based on the annual recommendations of the European Commission’s Scientific Review Group, international trade of European eel into and out of the EU is prohibited.
Luxury Cars and Gold Bars
Greek and Spanish authorities dismantled an international criminal network suspected of having smuggled over 10 tonnes of eels from the EU to China worth an estimated EUR 10 million.
Raids in both countries led to the arrest of 32 suspects, two tonnes of eels, as well as luxury cars, EUR 1 million in cash and gold bars. One of the criminal networks investigated is estimated to have earned EUR 280 million over the last five years alone.
The Portuguese authorities arrested a further seven suspects and seized 120 kg of glass eels at Lisbon airport. French customs seized 1.2 tonnes of eels, while British law enforcement arrested one person who tried to smuggle 500 kg of eels through Heathrow airport.
The operation was supported by the European Commission, with Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, praising Europol for its “continued diligence”.
“Operation Lake shows that our action plan against wildlife trafficking is delivering” he added. “Good coordination brings good results.”
Wil van Gemert, Europol Deputy Executive Director Operations said that the operation is a great example of what can be achieved through the “borderless international cooperation concept”.
“Europol is committed to raise awareness of and combat environmental crimes, especially trafficking in endangered animal and plant species,” he added.
The Netherlands and Sweden have signed up to join Operation LAKE to monitor any potential trafficking activities during the 2017-2018 fishing season.
Endangered Species on the ‘Darknet’
In recent years, authorities across the world have seen an increase in sales of endangered species and animal parts online, with some of the most critically endangered species on earth being sold on the Darknet.
The ‘Darknet’ refers to an obscure portion of the Internet, or a private network, where information is shared anonymously, making it almost impossible to track users.
As much as 96 per cent of the Internet is not indexed by standard search engines, making the Deepweb, of which the Darknet is a part, about 500 times the size of the World Wide Web.
A recent INTERPOL report found 21 advertisements on the Darknet offering rhino horn products, ivory and tiger parts between December 2016 and April 2017.
“We need to ensure that law enforcement in member countries has the support and resources they need to tackle wildlife crime in both physical and virtual marketplaces to help protect our wildlife and our shared global biodiversity,” said David Higgins, Manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security programme.
“Criminals will always seek to identify new areas to make a profit from their illicit activities and the Darknet is no exception,” he added.