Multi-Agency Operation Takes Down International Crime Syndicate
A shark fin smuggling operation based in California and Florida and worth millions of dollars has reportedly been shut down, according to a case report filed by the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Georgia.
Twelve people and two businesses alleged to be fronts for an international smuggling ring have been charged with smuggling shark fins from Mexico to Hong Kong. The defendants have also been accused of running an illegal marijuana shipping operation.
An indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia alleges that conspirators in multiple locations in the United States, Hong Kong, Mexico and Canada, were involved in a 'transnational criminal organization that engaged in wildlife trafficking, shark finning, drug trafficking and money laundering.'
The indictment alleges that the smuggling ring began as early as 2010. Members of the conspiracy used false documents, sham businesses and dozens of bank accounts in the US, Mexico and Hong Kong to hide proceeds from the illegal activities.
The operation to shut down the smuggling ring, codenamed 'Operation Apex', involved agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and U.S. Marshals Service. The multi-agency operation carried out 22 search warrants in Georgia, Florida, Michigan and California.
Agents seized more than $3.9 million from multiple bank accounts and approximately $4 million in precious metals and diamonds. More than six tons of shark fins were recorded as having been harvested, although the total number is unknown.
'Shark finning is the barbaric practice of catching sharks at sea, cutting off their fins and throwing the injured shark back into the ocean to die,' writes U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine, who filed the charges. 'Shark finning is aimed at supporting the demand for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Certain species of sharks are protected wildlife under federal and state law to ensure their continued sustainability.
'Fearless and aggressive law enforcement brought an end to this sprawling, transnational conspiracy,' said Christine. 'In the end, the size of the conspiracy was overwhelmed by a coordinated law enforcement effort to infiltrate, document and dismantle it. United with our partner agencies, we have shut down an operation that fed a seemingly insatiable overseas appetite for illegally traded wildlife, and seized ill-gotten assets derived from that despicable criminal enterprise.'
Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year, with some studies estimating that more than 70 per cent are targeted solely for their fins, in an international trade thought to be worth over $1.2 billion dollars. Worldwide condemnation of shark-finning has led to an outright ban on the practice in the US, however the trade in shark fins (which may be harvested from legally caught sharks) is still allowed in some areas. Shark fins can fetch more than $1000 per kilo on the Asian market for shark fin soup, depending on the species.
The charges to be brought against the arrested members of the crime syndicate carry sentences of up to life in Federal prison.