The global financial hub that is Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China just off the country’s coast on an island in the South China Sea, is the destination for thousands of tons of shark fins shipped by a group of companies which, between 2015 and 2018, accounted for 95% of Peru’s total exports of the product. These businesses are suspected of tax evasion, financial irregularities, and trafficking in aquatic species at risk of extinction.
Following seizure by the National Superintendency of Customs and Tax Administration (SUNAT) of 25 tons of shark fins in November 2018, Ojo-Publico.com has established the existence of an organized network of marine species suppliers in Ecuador, companies in the town of Tumbes that are thought to be front organizations, and exporters in Lima and Callao responsible for dispatching the cargo to Hong Kong.
The consumption of shark fins is an ancient custom in some Asian countries. In the last decade, however, conservation organizations have claimed that the practice threatens survival of the species, and shipping companies and airlines—such as Hong Kong's flagship airline Cathay Pacific—have declined to transport the controversial product. Luxury restaurants have removed it from their menus and the Chinese Communist Party has restricted consumption at official banquets.
In order to detect tax evasion or money laundering by the organized groups which obtain Ministry of Production (PRODUCE) export permits, the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), Customs officials of SUNAT, and prosecutors of Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) have sought to identify the real owners of the shark fin important and export companies, their bank accounts, and their possible use of front men.
JANUARY 2019. Customs intercepted 10 tons of shark fins during the first weeks of this year, having already confiscated 25 tons in November 2018.
When asked about efforts to discover the real origin of the shark fins, a lawyer for MINAM, Julio Guzmán, told Ojo-Publico.com that, given the profile of the legal entities investigated by Customs in 2018, it is plausible, “they constitute a criminal organization at international level [and] will have to prove that origin of the shark fins is legal.”
The inspection operations have almost paralyzed shipments bound for Hong Kong. Just prior to press time we learned that at the beginning of April Customs intercepted another 10 tons of shark fins—on top of the previous 25 tons seized since November 2018—thought to be of suspicion origin and awaiting dispatch to the Asian giant inside a Callao warehouse.
Behind the shark fin trade
The investigations are shining a light on various participants in this controversial industry; for example, husband and wife Xiaoou Zheng and Jieang Liu Jiang, Chinese-born Peruvian members of the China Jiangsu Chamber of Commerce of Peru and exporters of a range of products to Asia. This couple is linked to the three largest shark fins companies (all located in Lima) that have been exporting to Hong Kong over recent years: Inversiones UPC, created in 2008 by Xiaoou Zheng; Lamarqocha Inversiones, created in 2016 by Xiaoou Zheng and Lucila Sáenz Astuñaupa; and, Inversiones Sancco, created in 2012 by two shareholders, the late Primo Sáenz (father of Lucila) and Elba Flores, with Xiaoou Zheng acting as legal representative for all banking matters.
“Hong Kong's flagship airline Cathay Pacific has declined to transport shark fins”
According to Customs, between 2015 and 2018 Inversiones Sancco and Lamarqocha Inversiones accounted for 42% of shark fin exports (US$14million). One of their principal customers is Man Fung Sea Products Trading, located in Sheung Wan, well known as the trading center for hydrobiological products on the island of Hong Kong. Other key buyers include Hon Hing Ho Co.; Yat Sun International; and Heep Tung Hong Limited, led by Ricky Leung, the president of the local Marine Products Association.
HONG KONG. An important trading and financial center in China and the main destination of shark fins exported by Peruvian companies.
Photo: South China Morning Post.
Ojo-Publico.com tracked down Lamarqocha Inversiones (whose shark fins shipment was intercepted by Customs at the end of 2018) via its tax address and landline telephone connections to two properties (in Chorrillos and San Isidro) owned by Xiaoou Zheng and Jieang Liu Jiang. We discovered that in 2015 Zheng created a fourth company, Mayuqocha EIRL, managed by Amadeo Sáenz Astuñaupa (a son of Primo Sáenz).
The couple’s involvement in the shark fin trade in fact goes back much further and includes other now almost forgotten companies: Dowell, created in 2004 by Jieang Liu Jiang, which exported to Hong Kong between 2008 and 2010; and, Minami Trading, created in 1997, which exported in 2004 and 2005.
This is not the first time Xiaoou Zheng has been targeted as part of illegal shark fin extraction and trading investigations. In 2011, the Police and SUNAT intercepted an Inversiones UPC shipment of 48 bales containing juvenile shark fins and tails and three bales containing 25,000 seahorses, which were all to be sent by air to Hong Kong. At that time products of this type were transported from Jorge Chávez International Airport.
COUPLE. Chinese-born Jieang Liu Jiang (Jiangsu, 1964) and Xiaoou Zheng (Shanghai, 1964) are linked to the exports to Hong Kong.
SUNAT also seized a 2017 Lamarqocha Inversiones shipment consisting of 1,800 kilos of shark fins purchased from I & E Fish Peru EIRL and Genesis Naomi EIRL. The latter would also be identified as a supplier of the product during the 2018 seizure. These companies, each with a tax address in Tumbes, are regarded as being amongst the largest domestic importers of shark fins from Ecuador.
Ojo-Publico.com has also identified other individuals involved in the trade of shark fins: in 2012 Enrique Jaramillo Martínez created Full Moont (whose exports total US$347,000) and a second company, Exportaciones JME, in 2014; in 2011 María Sanguinetti Orlandi and Mauricio Valdez Sanguinetti created Valrep Internacional, a company which has sent shipments to Hong Kong over the last three years valued at up to US$3 million. Customs and PRODUCE officials seized more than three tons of Valrep´s shark fins in 2018.
Export and import investigations
A key figure in the investigation is the Peruvian Miguel Ángel Vera Chévez, General Manager of three import companies: Marea Blue, Inversiones y Negocios Internacionales EcuaPerú, and the aforementioned Tumbes-based I & E Fish Peru. These three companies accounted for 25% of shark fin imports from Ecuador between 2015 and 2018 (a total value of US$3 million). Sources close to the case have revealed that it is Vera Chévez who undertakes the administrative procedures established by PRODUCE for export to Hong Kong.
Another 23% of Ecuadorian shark fins were imported by the Tumbes-based company Genesis Naomi. Created in 2014, the company is owned and managed by Mario Lucio Maceda Vidal and made purchases valued at over US$2 million between 2015 and 2018. Vidal is currently in jail accused of participating in the “Pirates of Puerto Pizarro”, a criminal organization which operates in the north of the country.
CONTAINERS. Cargo of shark fins was intercepted at the beginning of January inside a private warehouse in Callao.
The list of importers of shark fin from Ecuador includes two more Lima-based companies: Angaff and Huiman. The former, created in 2013 by Jorge Castillo Martinez and Brian Junior Pinto Panduro (aged 24 year) accounted for 10% (US$1 million) of the shipments to Hong Kong between 2015 and 2018. The latter, created in 2016 by Clotilde Huiman and Jorge Castillo Silva, made shipments valued at US$235,000 over the same period.
The desperation of a group of companies to evade authorities and continue exporting shark fins of suspicious origin to Hong Kong origin led to the confiscation of 10 tons of shark fins in the first weeks of January. These companies have now been identified: Exports JME, owned by the aforementioned Enrique Jaramillo Martínez; Mejía C. Export created by María Pilar Mejía Carlos in 2018; and H and E Exportaciones, created in 2017 by Fiorella Lizet Hidalgo Mejía, who is just 20 years of age.
Although their companies do not appear to have any direct commercial relationship, María Pilar Mejía Carlos and Fiorella Lizet Hidalgo Mejía are both related to José Arturo Mejía Carlos, a trader who for many years has specialized in marine species.
Almost all roads lead to Ecuador
Ojo-Publico.com has been informed by a confidential source that a group of Huacho-based export companies reported to Customs that personnel from Lamarqocha Inversiones use their contacts in Ecuador to buy shark fins and then illegally obtain the PRODUCE documentation necessary to export the threatened species.
The group also identified Vera Chévez of Marea Blue and the jailed Maceda Vidal of Genesis Naomi as key characters in the shark fin trade. The Huacho-based companies, who have been established in the business for much longer, stated that they purchase shark fin from artisanal fishermen in the south of Peru rather than from Ecuador, a claim which will be assessed as part of the on-going investigations.
The link to the north is confirmed by immigration data, which shows that Xiaoou Zheng of Lamarqocha Inversiones and her husband have travelled by air and land to Ecuador, with the last visit occurring in 2017.
We approached the company to obtain a statement but received no response. We left several unreturned messages with Xiaoou Zheng at her home. Jieang Liu hung up our call when we located him at his fruit export company. We were unable to locate the other individuals, some of whose telephones were inactive.