From eggs in bra to geckos in underwear

Smuggling wildlife

From eggs in bra to geckos in underwear


John Sellar, chief enforcement officer at CITES — the UN agency against illegal wildlife trade — gave several examples. The caviar might add a touch of class to the average dinner table, but it might have got there, thanks to prostitution, bribery and death threats orchestrated by the Russian mafia. Sellar says, the “crime” starts with the poaching of sturgeon from the Caspian Sea and the processing of caviar.

In one instance, the delicacy was smuggled into a middle eastern country where officials were offered bribes or prostitutes or, if they did not comply, given death threats to issue genuine CITES documents for smuggling. “With the documents, the caviar then enters national markets as genuine certified caviar,” said Sellar. Once the caviar is certified as legal, the trade helps the mafia to launder their money.

Criminals have been caught smuggling beetles and snakes with proper CITES documentation, but using them as drug mules. Sellar pointed to a case where beetles were found dead at a customs checkpoint.

In another case, a shipment of snakes from South America arrived in the US with genuine permits, but the US customs officers found most of them dead. It was later discovered that the snakes were full of condoms stuffed with cocaine, Sellar said. If that shipment had passed through, the criminals would have made money in several ways — not only the drugs, but the snakes would have earned a tidy sum, dead or alive, said Sellar. Alive, they could have been sold to collectors; dead, they could have been offloaded for their skins, he explained. “You will get men and women with special constructed vests with eggs. There are women smuggling eggs in their bras or men smuggling live lizards and geckos in their underpants.”

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