Ambiente

CITES: the treaty meant to protect sharks from the black market

16 Abr 2019
A Peruvian administrative authority responsible issuing CITES permits to protect species threatened by global trade certified the shark fin exports of a group of businessmen who are now under investigation for alleged trafficking of species, organized crime, and tax evasion. Ojo-Publico.com has discovered that a directorate within the Ministry of Production authorized the sale of tons of hydrobiological specimens which are now suspected to have come from the black market.

Between 2014 and 2018, a group of Peruvian businessmen thought to be involved in species trafficking dispatched to Hong Kong 1,700 tons of fins from various breeds of shark valued at US$25 million. A large number of these shipments carried authorization by the Ministry of Production (PRODUCE), the administrative body responsible for issuing certification under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES —an agreement signed by the European Union and the governments of 182 countries to preserve wildlife through the regulation of trade— aims to ensure that purchase and sale of species be legal, traceable, and sustainable. In Perú the responsible agencies include PRODUCE (for hydrobiological resources such as shark fins), the Ministry of Agriculture (for terrestrial flora and fauna), and the Ministry of the Environment (as the scientific authority). 

With average shipments of 340 tons per year, Peru is currently one of the 10 largest exporters of shark fins. According to official figures from PRODUCE and the National Superintendency of Customs and Tax Administration, more than a half of this product enters the country via the land border with Ecuador (where directed fishing is prohibited) and via fishing vessels in international waters, with the remainder coming from sharks hunted in Peru’s territorial waters.

JANUARY, 2019. Customs seizes the cargoes from different shark fin export companies between November 2018 and February 2019 in the port of Callao.
Photo: Ojo-Publico.com.

The full story came to light after Peru’s Customs Office seized a record haul of 48.5 tons of shark fins (50 thousand individual specimens) between November 2018 and February 2019. This was the largest operation against national companies suspected of purchasing and exporting specimens of illegal origin using CITES permits issued by PRODUCE.

Ojo-Publico.com has made a list of the companies which have made the most exports since 2014. Our investigation has identified almost all the individuals involved in these companies. We have established the relationships these people have with their contacts within the PRODUCE directorate responsible for shark fin trade CITES compliance. We have also detected discrepancies between the import figures from Ecuador to Peru and those for the subsequent shipments to Asia.

We reveal that the Peruvian Mario Lucio Maceda Vidal (Tumbes, 1951) was the largest importer of shark fins from Ecuador and supplier to exporters located in Lima. Vidal brought in 200 tons through his wife and his company Genesis Naomi. According to the Peruvian National Police (PNP), this individual was part of a criminal organization called "Los Piratas de Puerto Pizarro" (the Pirates of Puerto Pizarro), accused of murder and the theft of fish shipments along the northern border. At the time of his arrest in October 2018, Maceda was in the midst of processing a CITES permit through PRODUCE.

ORGANIZED CRIME. 'Don Mario', Ecuador’s the largest importer of shark fin from Ecuador, was arrested in Tumbes during a huge operation against the criminal band  led by the Ecuadorian nicknamed 'Patrón'.
Photo: National Police.

 

In depth analysis: Shark traders

The export of shark fins has been dominated over the last decade by a group of individuals operating in the ports of Callao and Tumbes. Prominent among them is Xiaoou Zheng (Shangai, 1964) who as a natural person or through Lamarqocha Inversiones (of which she is a shareholder) and Inversiones Sancco (where she, together with manager Amadeo Sáenz Astuñaupa, has been legal representative since 2014), shipped 670 tons of shark fins to Hong Kong between 2014 and 2018 valued at US$12 million.

Also known as Elizabeth Zheng, Xiaoou Zheng naturalized as a Peruvian citizen in 2003. She is married to the Chinese-born Peruvian businessman Jieang Liu Jiang, a member of the China Jiangsu Chamber of Commerce in Peru. Together they own properties in San Isidro, Surquillo, Chorrillos, and Cañete. For more than a decade Zheng has been linked to the export of shark fins to Asia through other companies in Lima: Minami Trading (1997), Dowell (2005), Inversiones UPC (2009), and Mayuqocha (2015).

In 2011, the Customs Office and the PNP inspected Inversiones UPC while it was in the process of sending a shipment of shark fins and seahorses to Hong Kong. At this time a property of Xiaoou Zheng served as the registered address for the remaining shark fin exporters linked to her: Dowell, Mayuqocha, Minami Trading, and Inversiones Sancco (managed by Amadeo Sáez Astuñaupa, whose late father Primo Sáez Romero was at the time the principal shareholder).

Zheng’s companies accounted for almost 40% of the total exports of shark fin between 2014 and 2018. Over the same period, another business operator, Enrique Jaramillo Martínez, sent some 90 tons of shark fin to Hong Kong valued at more than US$3 million through the companies Exports JME and Full Mont. Father and son Jorge Eduardo Castillo Silva and Jorge Renzo Castillo Martínez—of the Huiman and Angaff companies—exported 65 and 32 tons respectively to the same destination over the same period.

PUERTO DE MANTA. Companies from Ecuador send tons of shipments of shark fins to Peru. Peruvian customs has detected contradictions between the figures for the product leaving the neighboring country and that which enters.
Photo: Ministry of Transport of Ecuador.

Miguel Ángel Vera Chevez, who operates in Tumbes, exported 31 tons of fins through three companies: Marea Blue, I & E Fish Peru, and Inversiones y Negocios Internacionales EcuaPerú. Ojo.Publico’s list also includes Adán Vise Chunga (New Products Food) and Juan Roberto Quispe Huamaní (Inversiones Flippers), who, either as a natural persons or through their companies, sent 27 and 28 tons respectively. Vera Chevez also features on the list of major exporters.

Following Ojo-Publico.com investigations, authorities have placed under suspicion Mario Maceda Vidal, from Tumbes, the largest importer of fins from Ecuador between 2014 and 2018 and a key supplier of some of the aforementioned exporters. He is currently serving 25 months preventive detention under suspicion of being a member of an Ecuadorian and Peruvian criminal organization. According to the police, Maceda, alias 'Don Mario', is linked to an Ecuadorian mafia leader, William Banchón Sánchez (alias 'El Patrón').

'DON MARIO'. Division of High Complexity Investigations (DIVIAC) captured Mario Maceda Vidal, one of the main suppliers of shark fins whilst he was processing a CITES certificate through the Ministry of Production.
Photo: National Police.

The Division of High Complexity Investigations (DIVIAC) arrested ‘Don Mario' October 22, 2018 during a major operation in Tumbes. A week earlier, he had written to the Ministry of Production to obtain a CITES certificate that would have allowed him to import a shark fin cargo from Ecuador through his company Genesis Naomi. Once detained, Maceda issued a power of attorney enabling that a representative to continue processing his suspect application through PRODUCE.

By the time Maceda Vidal sought his CITES permit, DIVIAC—an elite police organized crime unit—had already intercepted the cell phones of the members of the organization and undertaken surveillance of their daily operations. Sources linked to the case indicate that Maceda Vidal was in close contact with Xiaoou Zheng of Lamarqocha and Juan Quispe Huamaní of Inversiones Flippers, both major purchasers of the shark fins.

Yet PRODUCE deemed Maceda Vidal’s CITE permit documentation to be in order despite his being accused of membership of Los Piratas de Puerto Pizarro and being subject to a seizure order involving watercraft, weapons, 45 boats, and funds in the amounts of US$12,000 and PEN 56,000.

CLIENT. The company Genesis Naomi, created by the detainee Mario Maceda, was one of the largest suppliers for Lamarqocha, the export company belonging to the Chinese-born Peruvian Xiaoou Zheng that has made the most shipments to Hong Hong over recent years.
Photo: Ojo-Publico.com.

DIVIAC, which seized three of Maceda Vidal’s fishing vessels in Tumbes, has focused its investigation on the links between these organizations and the trade of hydrobiological products. To date it has discovered that these commercial groups have contact with companies in the fishing region of Manta (Ecuador)—where local authorities have identified the largest number of fin traders—and in Hong Kong (China), the destination for 85% of product exports from the port of Callao over recent years. Other destinations include Japan and Singapore.

By press time, of the traders contacted by Ojo-Publico.com for this report, only Jorge Castillo Martínez from Angaff Peru had provided a clear response. “There is nothing absolutely illegal in my work,” he said. He added that he only purchases shark fins in Ecuador from companies that “have ministerial agreement, health certification and CITES permits.” Calls to other companies were answered by individuals who declined to respond or reveal their identity. Some referred us on to the lawyers.

The CITES directorate in PRODUCE

These trading groups also have links to the key PRODUCE department responsible for the trade in hydrobiological products: the Directorate General of Fisheries for Direct and Indirect Human Consumption (DGPCHDI, its Spanish acronym). This area’s functions include issuing CITES permits for the protection of aquatic species threatened by global trade. This certificate is essential for Peruvian companies (including those investigated by Customs at the end of 2018) to export shaken fins and to import these from Ecuador prior to re-export.

The CITES permits examined by Ojo-Publico.com for this report carried the signature of the DGPCHDI Director (and biologist) Aaron Canepa Sosaya (32). Mey Lin Chang Molina (34), a fisheries engineer, also served as a DGPCHDI director over the period in question. This directorate authorized the import and export of tons of shark fins destined for Hong Kong under a mechanism that is now under investigation by the Customs Office and the Financial Intelligence Unit.

INTERVENTION. The Customs operation that began in November 2018 provided the indications of how the shark fin import and export companies operate.
Photo: Ojo-Publico.com.

The lawyers Jorge Luis Castillo Figueroa (2017-2018) and Juan Carlos Vargas Gianella (2018 and 2019) have also held positions in this important directorate in recent years. Today Verónica Caballero Gonzales is the area’s head. She assumed the position following the appointment of the Deputy Minister of Fisheries, María del Carmen Abregú Báez, a former director of the CITES permits area between 2015 and 2017.

Authorities are currently analyzing records of shark fin shipments from Ecuador. The import and export figures held by the customs authorizes of Peru and Ecuador display evident contradictions. The preliminary conclusion—foreseeable given the occasional seizures made in along Panamericana Norte highway over the last five years—is shocking: tons of contraband shark fins have left Callao with CITES permits issued by the DGPCHDI.

Ojo-Publico.com has learned that the officials working in this directorate claim the shark fins reaching Peru from Ecuador do so with CITES certification sought by the Ecuadorian traders and issued by that country’s Ministry of the Environment. However, the Ecuadorian and PRODUCE-issued permits contain errors and omissions and, as in the case of the now imprisoned Mario Maceda, are often processed with great speed.

CITES, which was created to save species marketed by gastronomy, health, tourism, cosmetics, and fashion industries, will hold its most important event from May 23 to June 3 in Sri Lanka: the Conference of the Parties (CITES Cop18).  Today—45 years after the entry into force of the agreement—the effectiveness of the authorities responsible for ensuring this global agreement protects flora and fauna is in question, at least in the case of Peruvian shark fins.

CITES COP. At the Conference of the Parties to be held in Sri Lanka next month, the most important meeting of the Cites Convention, one of the topics of debate will be the threat posed to sharks by the trade in their fins.
Photo: COP18 Website.

PRODUCE and sharks traders pressure Customs

That there are links between shark trader and the directorate responsible for CITES permits becomes evident from the PRODUCE visitors register. For example, Xiaoou Zheng, shareholder of Lamarqocha Inversiones and client of detainee Maceda Vidal, attended the ministry in almost every month of 2018 (10 visits). Her preferred destination was DGPCHDI, where, accompanied by the company’s Director Amadeo Sáenz, she met with Vargas Gianella and Chang Molina.

She also visited the office of Javier Atkins, Vice Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture between April 2018 and March 2019. In September 2017, Xiaoou Zheng met with biologist Aaron Canepa, responsible for the CITES permits. Amadeo Sáenz also visited Vice Minister Atkins' office and other areas of PRODUCE.

Like other exporters, Maceda Vidal, of Genesis Naomi and alleged member of Los Piratas de Puerto Pizarro, registered frequent visits to PRODUCE directorates and also, in December 2017, to the office of Héctor Soldi, the Vice Minister for Fisheries.

BORDER. Customs, the Prosecutor’s Office, CITES entities, and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) have been investigating the case of the shark fins. In the Los Piratas de Puerto Pizarro operation, three boats belonging to Maceda Vidal were seized.
Photo: National Police.

Sources consulted for this report pointed to Canepa Sosaya and Chang Molina (who remain in their positions whilst their superiors are replaced or rotated from time to time) as Ministry of Production officials who are too close to the shark fin traders. Ojo-Publico.com found evidence of these claims following Custom’s seizure of 48.5 tons of shark fin at the end of 2018 and based on a subsequent meeting (unreported until now) held on January 31 at the headquarters of Chucuito Customs (Callao).

Representing PRODUCE at the meeting were Canepa Sosaya, Chang Molina, Juan Carlos Córdova Calle (supervisor of the General Directorate of Supervision, Oversight and Sanctions), and the lawyer Verónica Caballero Gonzales (superior of Cánepa Sosaya and Chang Molina but also attending on DGPCHDI’s behalf—and later to appointed its head). Representing the National Fisheries Health Agency (SANIPES) was Karla Verastegui Castro, Director of Supervision and Oversight. The traders represented at the meeting were Xiaoou Zheng (Lamarqocha Investments), Castillo Martínez (Angaff Perú), Jaramillo Martínez (JME), Vise Chunga (New Products), and Quispe Huamaní (Inversiones Peru Flippers).

According to witnesses, the PRODUCE officials responsible for issuing CITES permits, questioned the customs agents about the 2018 seizure given that the shipments had approval for export to Hong Kong. The sensitivity was obvious: PRODUCE’s officials would be liable if irregularities in the CITES documentation arose or if there was any evidence of smuggling.

Another attendee to the meeting was the Ecuadorian trader Reivel Armando Agurto Moreira, dedicated to shark fin purchasing in Manta (and who also visited the Canepa Sosaya in PRODUCE during 2018). Agurto Moreira holds power of attorney for the Vásquez Q Group, belonging to the Peruvian Guillermo Vásquez Quiliche. More interesting for authorities than Agurto Moreira’s business links was the fact that his brother Miguel Agurto Moreira had been killed in Callao in 2015 while under indictment for operating as the alleged hit man of a criminal group.

Bruno Vieira Portugal also attended the meeting. He is brother of Congressman Roberto Vieira Portugal—today investigated by the Office of the Attorney General for influence peddling after having boasted of using his power in the Ministry of Production to cancel a resolution in exchange for US$25,000. It is noteworthy that the resolution in question had been issued by the directorate that processes CITES certificates.

Sources of Ojo-Publico.com have revealed that Bruno Vieira has been the spokesman for some of the exporters since the first seizures during 2018. He always drew on his relationship to Congressman Viera during his various attempts to obtain lifting of the seizure: last November before the Customs Office, again in the first week of 2019 (when he was also threatening to call PRODUCE or take the case to the Congress) and finally in the January 31 meeting at Customs headquarters.

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