Rotterdam/Brabant - Record catch Police and Customs in Investigation into wild life crime
During a search of several days in a commercial property and five warehouses in the province of Brabant Customs, the Environmental team of the Police and the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority NVWA under the direction of the Functional Public Prosecutor’s Office, found an immense amount of materials of protected and endangered species of animals and plants, which were presumably imported illegally. They included among other things coral, skins and bones of protected animals and cactus rain sticks. No arrests were made as yet.
Among the materials seized are more than 2000 kilos of coral, snake skins and dragon skins, skulls of i.a. turtles and monkeys, bones of various animals and jewellery made of ivory.
All this was exhibited in a showroom with statues and bibelots and stored in numerous bags, boxes and crates in shelving units in the adjacent storage warehouses. It took the investigators three days to filter out the suspected illegal material from all the legal merchandise and to take it away.
In addition half a million of euro’s in cash was found in a number of safes on the industrial site. This was seized on suspicion of money laundering. The company as well as the 53-year-old owner of the company are held responsible for these goods.
345 kilos of coral
The Police discovered the company when Customs in the Port of Rotterdam came across a container from China in the course of a regular check-up. Inside the container they found, in addition to 400 pieces of counterfeited goods, also fifteen boxes containing 345 kilos of coral. Coral is a protected animal species and listed on CITES with agreements on the international trade in endangered wild animal and plant species. To import coral one must have a license to do so. This was not the case for this shipment.
Through the intervention of the Public Prosecutor, Customs called in the environmental team of the Police. Their investigation led to the company in the province of Brabant. On Wednesday 16th August, during the search, in which participated Customs and the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority as well, they found among the merchandise not only corals, but also other (parts of) endangered species of animals that are not allowed to be imported and traded just like that.
Truckloads of it
The amount of goods in the wholesale company and the warehouses belonging to it was so huge that one day was not sufficient to sort them all out and to seize the suspected illegal materials. Therefore they came back on Thursday 17th August with a forklift and truck in order to take away the boxes full of vulnerable corals and parts of sea turtles, monkeys, bats and crocodiles.
On Monday it took another full day to find the protected pieces among all the goods. All the materials seized were transported to a storage facility of Customs. There specialists and police officers will make further inquiries.
In addition to all the materials of protected species, approximately 2000 counterfeited (branded) goods were found as well and seized.
Compliance with the CITES-rules is one of the priorities in combating environmental crime. The illegal trade in protected animals and plants often takes place at an international level, it is almost always aimed at making a lot of money and it is disrupting. This form of chain crime harms society. CITES regulates the international trade in protected species, illegal trade in these species may result in serious loss of biodiversity. This foul play creates distortion of competition and affects the integrity of the social and economic system.
Hundreds of years old
The project leader of the environmental team of the Rotterdam Police, Mr. Peter Hartog, is appalled by the nature and scale of the catch.’The coral alone: coral reefs are the rain forests of the oceans and they are seriously threatened. Coral licenses are not or hardly ever issued, that is why you don’t see it anywhere for sale. During this search we found a complete coral reef. Coral grows between 1 and 25 millimeters per year and sea fan coral grows even slower. What we found here are pieces of coral of hundreds of years old. For instance a piece of blue coral of at least 40 centimeters high. Imagine how old that is!
Moreover coral is stolen with explosives, causing huge environmental damage. Thousands of fishes living in the coral reef are senselessly killed, just because somebody wants to have a piece of coral on his mantelpiece.’