355 protected reptiles saved in Spain in hit against wildlife traffickers

12 November 2020
Press Release
Press Release/News

This News/Press release is about Environmental Crime

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The criminal group forged certificates to sell legally protected animals

An investigation, led by the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and supported by Europol, led to the dismantling of a large organised crime group involved in wildlife trafficking, document fraud, smuggling and money laundering. Law enforcement authorities from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden also supported in the investigation.

The suspects smuggled reptiles from Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and the Middle East. The criminal group used a group of couriers to smuggle the animals across borders. They concealed the reptiles in personal luggage or even under their clothes. The suspects introduced protected species into the legal market by falsifying CITES documents attesting the type of reptile. A network of veterinarians helped the criminals by forging documents to conceal the true origin of the animals. This criminal activity focused on a particular species of tortoise, which ensured a market monopoly for the criminal network.

Results in brief

  • 21 suspects arrested (from Spain and the UK)
  • 1 of the leaders among the arrested
  • 355 specimens of reptiles seized
  • Firearms including a submachine gun confiscated
  • Items worth €800 000 seized

Information exchange uncovered the links

This investigation uncovered a well-implemented criminal group, which abused the free circulation of persons and goods to conceal their illegal activity. The criminal analysis of intelligence in Europol’s information systems meant links could be established between people and events. The involvement of Europol was crucial to linking the suspects with different nationalities to the criminal activity.

Europol facilitated the information exchange and supported the case with operational analysis which led to the identification of one high-value target. During the action day, Europol provided support on the spot by deploying an expert to Barcelona to crosscheck operational information and provide links to investigators in the field. In addition, Europol set up a virtual command post to facilitate the coordination of the operational activities.

Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, we support the 27 EU Member States in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. We also work with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

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In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant.Environmental crime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.