A seafood salesman has been convicted of smuggling an estimated 5.3 million critically endangered baby eels from Spain to East Asia via the UK.
The conviction, thought to be the first of its kind in Great Britain, saw the man convicted of smuggling the eels over a two year period.
Gilbert Khoo, 67, from Parbury Rise, Chessington, was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 7 February of six offences relating to the illegal importation and movement of the rare elvers.
Specialist Border Force officers found the European ‘glass eels’, known as Anguilla Anguilla, concealed under a load of chilled fish at Heathrow Airport.
They were due to be exported to Hong Kong on 15 February 2017. It was the first such seizure ever recorded in the UK.
The live consignment, weighing around 200 kilos with an estimated value of at least £5.7million on the black market in East Asia, had been transported from Spain to the UK. The marine animals were later returned to the wild.
Khoo was arrested on 23 February 2017 when he disembarked a flight from Singapore at Heathrow Airport.
When interviewed by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers, Khoo told officers that he was a middleman for buying and selling seafood.
However, while searching his home NCA officers found paperwork showing that, between February 2015 and February 2017, Khoo was smuggling the rare species under his company Icelandic Commodities Exports Ltd.
Investigators found that Khoo would import elvers from EU states, hold them at a farm in Gloucestershire, then repackage and label them as ’chilled fish’ to be sent onwards to East Asia.
Elvers fetch more than ten times the price on the East Asian black market than they would in the UK.
There 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.
NCA investigators estimate that in two years Khoo exported or had attempted to export 1,775 kilos of eels with an estimated value of £53 million on the black market.
Khoo is due to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 6 March 2020.
NCA Senior Investigating Officer Ian Truby said: “The entire operation run by Khoo to trade in 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. But, the NCA are determined to protect vulnerable wildlife from criminals who wish to benefit financially.
“Along with our partners, like Border Force and the Fish Health Inspectorate, we are determined to do all we can to stop the global black market trade of endangered species.”