355 protected reptiles saved in Spain in hit against wildlife traffickers

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.