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Police arrest 17 for smuggling live eels from Spain to China 

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Police have broken up an international network which illegally smuggled baby eels to China where they are considered a delicacy.

It’s estimated that the gang made at least seven million euros every year, laundering the proceeds and in some instances, being paid with gold bars.

The police operation was carried out by Spain’s environ-mental protection squad and involved officers from Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and United Kingdom.

They suspected a company based in Tarragona and first investigated in 2012 was behind the smuggling.

Eight people were arrested in the city, as well as in Seville and Valencia, plus another nine in Greece.

They have been charged with smuggling, forging documents, crimes against wildlife and money laun-dering.

Two of those arrested in Spain are Chinese who had contacts in their home country who arranged for the money to be sent from Hong Kong to avoid detection.

Nine houses and business premises were raided in Spain when about two tons of live baby eels or angulas as they are known were seized.

Police also found a huge amount of documents, computer equipment, more than 300,000 euros in cash, luxury vehicles and gold bars.

Another 240,000 euros was seized from Chinese members of the group.

“The Civil Guard discovered that the Spanish company acquired legally and illegally fished eels in the Spanish territory,” said a spokesman. “Added to these were eels sourced from French, Portuguese and Italian citizens, without asking about their origin.”

Mostly, the baby eels were poached in the waters of Anadalucia where fishing for anuglas is strictly prohibited, as well as in Valencia where there are strict controls, as well as in the Ebro region where catches are allowed but with an obligation to declare the eels.

Once around 1,000 kilos had been accumulated, the eels were transferred to Greece in a lorry especially adapted for live transport. From there, the merchandise was shipped to Hong Kong and subsequently marketed in China.

“The investigation determined that the Spanish company had orchestrated a formula to try to evade their criminal responsibilities by associating with well-known Greek entrepreneurs to create a screen-fabric company,” said the police. “The profits were staggering – about 7,000 euros per kilogram of eel in China.”

There are strict rules in place over the fishing and sale of the baby eels which are in danger of being wiped out.