A SEAFOOD salesman is awaiting sentence after being found guilty of smuggling a staggering £53million worth of endangered eels.
Fish smuggler Gilbert Khoo, 67, was convicted of six offences relating to the illegal importation and movement of rare elvers, at London’s Southwark Crown Court. He will be sentenced on March 6.
Khoo, from Chessington, Surrey, was smuggling an estimated 5.3 million critically endangered baby eels from Spain to East Asia via the UK over a two-year period.
Specialist Border Force officers found the elvers concealed under chilled fish at Heathrow Airport, which were due to be exported to Hong Kong on February 15, 2017. It is the first seizure of its kind to be recorded in the UK.
The live consignment weighed around 200 kilos, and was worth an estimated £5.7 million on its own on the black market. The eels had been transported from Spain to the UK, and were later returned to the wild.
UK officers landed fish smuggler at airport
Khoo was arrested in February 2017 when he disembarked from a flight from Singapore at Heathrow Airport.
When interviewed by National Crime Agency officers, Khoo told them that he was a middleman, buying and selling seafood.
But while searching his home, NCA officers found paperwork showing that he had been smuggling the rare species under his company, Icelandic Commodities Exports Ltd, between February 2015 and February 2017.
Investigators found that the fish smuggler would import elvers from EU states, hold them at a farm in Gloucestershire, then repackage and label them as ‘chilled fish’, to be sent to East Asia.
Fish smuggler solely motivated by money
NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said: “The entire operation to trade these critically endangered animals was illegal from start to finish, and there is no doubt his sole motivation was money.
“The profits to be made from illegally smuggling live eels to Hong Kong and the Far East are significant. The NCA is determined to protect vulnerable wildlife from criminals looking to benefit financially.
“Along with our partners, including Border Force and the Fish Health Inspectorate, we are determined to do all that we can to stop the global black market trade of endangered species.”
Elvers fetch more than ten times the price on the East Asian black market than they would in the UK, as they are considered a delicacy and demand is very high.
Due to their status as an endangered animal, there are strict controls on their export.
Many anglers were fuming at the news of how the fish smuggler operated on a large scale for so long.
Northampton-based angler Terry Fowkes blasted: “He wants locking up for messing with the ecosystem.
“The elvers’ journey to our shores is horrendous, but then they get netted in estuaries and are destined for a cooking pot.
“No one has the right to do this on such a scale. This man’s greed has no limits.”
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