European authorities have arrested 27 suspects in an alleged illegal eel operation following a two-year investigation that prompted searches in France, Spain, Belgium and Poland, Spain’s Civil Guard said this week.
The Civil Guard, in a joint operation with the French National Gendarmerie, Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office, seized 1½ tons of live critically endangered eels and several more tons of frozen eels that had gone through no food safety checks.
The recovered live eels were returned to their “natural environment to preserve (their) survival,” the Civil Guard said of the fish considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The suspects are accused of running a criminal operation to smuggle the eels into China, where it is a “highly valued product,” according to the Civil Guard.
The eels can go for more than $5,000 per kilogram in some Asian countries, “which is why, for years, criminal groups and organizations dedicated to concealing batches of live eels and send them to customers in Asia,” the Civil Guard said via a translation.
Assets worth more than 2 million euros were also seized from the alleged criminal organization.
Because the eels are endangered, trade within the European Union is “subject to fishing and distribution quotas, but its export outside the EU is totally prohibited,” the Civil Guard said.