A network of glass eel traffickers, which operates between France and Asia, has been dismantled, as announced on Friday June 11 by the national gendarmerie. This network is suspected of having exported more than 46 tonnes of this endangered migratory fish. The illegal trade in this eel fry, sold at a high price, has made it possible to launder 18.5 million euros.
The investigation, carried out for four years by the customs of Bordeaux and the Central Office for the fight against attacks on the environment and public health (Oclaesp), led to the indictment of ten people in France. and in Spain, reports the national gendarmerie in a press release.
Poaching and resale of this translucent fry, mainly to Asian markets, has intensified since the early 2010s, as it was decided, in 2010, to ban its export outside the European Union ( EU) in order to protect it. Petty criminals and seasoned receivers thus share a booty estimated at several hundred million euros per year. Many of these transcontinental sectors are taking root in France.
« Or blanc »
The investigators drew the thread of two seizures, carried out in 2017 by the customs officers of Arcachon (Gironde) and Roissy, and which amounted respectively to 792 kilos and 200 kilos of contraband elvers – called “pibales” in the south -Where is. A species whose European population has fallen by 75% in thirty years, and which has been considered endangered since the 2000s. The merchandise was intended to be exported illegally to China and Thailand, where glass eels sell for between 3,000 and 4,000 euros per kilo on the black market, up to ten times more expensive than its selling price in Europe.
The judicial customs of Bordeaux have established that the same network of traffickers was hiding behind these two seizures, before joining their investigations to those of the Oclaesp and the nautical brigade of Saintes (Charente-Maritime), who are also working on this. traffic.
The investigation group then discovered that the glass eels collected by French wholesalers were transported to Spain and then “Routed to Asian countries with a strong demand for this product, notably via logistics platforms set up in Eastern countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland)”, details the gendarmerie. “Police cooperation at European level, via Europol, was decisive in tackling this international trafficking”, underlines the press release.
In total, investigators estimated the quantity of glass eels exported illegally at 46 tonnes, with a masked merchandise. “By the use of false documents implying the sending of other species (shrimps, conger eels, carp …)”. This juicy traffic, nicknamed « l’or blanc », enabled the network to launder 18.5 million euros.
The survey showed “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 retrocommissions through contracts on operations between Africa and the Asia “.
Nine French wholesalers and intermediaries were indicted in September 2019. This year, it was the Spanish managers of a transport company as well as one of the heads of the network (also a Spanish national) who were indicted.