PARIS, June 12 (AFP): French officials said Friday they had broken up a smuggling operation that shipped millions of baby eels to Asia where they are a prized delicacy that can command up to US$5,000 euros per kilogramme.
The inquiry began in 2017 when customs officers seized nearly 800 kilos of the silvery eels near the southwestern city of Bordeaux destined for China, as well as 200 kilos near Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, headed for Thailand.
Over the next four years, investigators uncovered a network in France and Spain that exported 46 million tons of the eels -- considered a threatened species since the early 2000s.
"Over the past 30 years the European eel population has plunged by 75 per cent, a decline with multiple causes including these illegal activities," France's gendarme police force said in a statement.
They also discovered a money laundering operation spread across several countries including Bulgaria and using shell companies in Ireland and Panama, that processed some 18.5 million euros (US$22.4 million).
Nine wholesalers and market brokers in France were charged in 2019, and this year one of the ringleaders, a Spaniard, and directors of a Spanish transportation firm were charged as well. - AFP