A New Taipei City resident in his 30s was arrested earlier this month for allegedly smuggling totoaba swim bladders from Mexico to sell in China, as part of a months-long probe into an international smuggling ring that began with a tip-off from the FBI, the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) said yesterday.
Local police and customs authorities seized 19kg of totoaba swim bladders between July 28 and Aug. 12 that had a black market price of about US$900,000, the CIB told a news conference at its office in Taipei.
CIB Deputy Commissioner Liao Hsun-cheng (廖訓誠) inspected the confiscated haul, while FBI Legal Attache Office representative in Taiwan Nicolas Garcia made a rare public appearance.
Photo: Yao Yueh-hung, Taipei Times
Liao said that the main haul was seized at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Aug. 10 — 161 dried swim bladders that arrived from the US by air cargo — and CIB units followed up with searches.
The detained suspect, surnamed Yao (姚), who works in the customs brokerage business, is alleged to be the main Taiwanese member of the smuggling operation.
CIB officials said that their investigation began after they received a report from the FBI last month that the smugglers purchased the dried swim bladders of totoaba — an endangered species — and sent them via international express courier delivery services from Mexico, destined for China.
The trade in totoaba swim bladders has been illegal since 1976, when the giant fish, endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico, was added to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CIB officials said that Mexican poachers catch the fish, dry the swim bladders and then smuggle them to the US West Coast, where Chinese gangs send them via air mail or courier packages to Taiwan.
The bladders are then sent from Kinmen to Xiamen, in China’s Fujian Province, via the “small three links,” before moving on to Guangzhou, the CIB said.
Yao faces charges of contravening the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) and the Smuggling Penalty Act (懲治走私條例).
Garcia thanked the CIB and Customs Administration on behalf of the FBI and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for their efforts.
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