The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is being used as a major staging point for a multi-million dollar caviar smuggling operation, the international agency in charge of protecting endangered species said Friday.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) said in a statement it had enlisted the help of UAE authorities after an investigation uncovered a "major problem" with illicitly-harvested caviar that was re-exported through the country.
The probe found that much of the $20 million worth of caviar that left the UAE during the first ten months of 2001 appeared to be of unlawful origin, according to CITES. The agency said its investigation was triggered by suspicions about the true origin of UAE caviar shipments and by reports that organized crime groups based mainly in Dubai were coordinating illegal sales.
CITES said dealers were exploiting "weaknesses" in UAE legislation as well as forged documents and declarations to obtain CITES re-export certificates from local authorities for caviar that was illegally harvested in Russia. The caviar was shipped to Asia, Europe and the US, according to CITES.
"Although it is regrettable that large quantities of caviar were able to enter the international trade illegally, we have now moved to prevent further illicit shipments," CITES Secretary-General Willen Wijnstekers said. CITES said it had appealed to Interpol to stop the network spreading elsewhere.
"Such substantial profits have been made that it is highly likely that those engaged in this illegal trade will move their operations elsewhere," Wijnstekers said. "We will also continue to monitor closely trade form the UAE," he added.
The sturgeon fish, which produces caviar, is listed as an endangered species by CITES, but uncontrolled fishing has boomed in the Caspian Sea region following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Last June, former Soviet states on the Caspian Sea, including Russia, agreed to halt all sturgeon fishing for the rest of this year.
Iran, the other major source of Caspian caviar, is regarded as having effective controls on fishing to preserve stocks. — (AFP, Geneva)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )