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Chinese authorities bust huge seafood smuggling ring  0

By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China

Published on Tuesday, June 02, 2015

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Chinese prosecutors are preparing court cases to try the country’s biggest-ever seafood smuggling bust after scores of arrests nationwide of alleged seafood smugglers who smuggled product into China – and mislabeled salmon as mackerel in order to pay lower customs taxes.

The charges are focused on the southern province of Guangdong, near Hong Kong, where authorities claim to have seized 300 metric tons (MT) of imported seafood — part of a massive smuggling operation worth CNY 3 billion (USD 480 million; EUR 420 million), say authorities — in a swoop coordinated by police and customs officials.

Frozen fish and crustaceans from Canada, India, Norway and Thailand were seized by Huangpu Customs in the southern port city of Guangzhou. But 21 “seafood smuggling cells” were targeted across the country and 31 people arrested in cities like Zhanjiang (a key shrimp trading hub), Tianjin and Beijing in an operation code-named “Operation Icebreaker.”

The Huangpu branch of the General Administration of Customs (GAC), as well as the GAC’s anti-smuggling bureau, cooperated with Chinese police in a dramatic series of arrests, some of which were televised. A statement sent to SeafoodSource by the GAC details boxes of frozen fish taken from containers and warehouses in early-morning raids.

Noticeably the latest crackdown features imported salmon and cod but also shrimp and crab. And crucially, the authorities have specifically pointed to mislabeling of species with sablefish and salmon stamped as containing lower-end species like mackerel and Atlantic cod – many of which are imported tax-free by processors for re-export.

Investigators also claimed that smugglers illegally brought foreign vehicles into China in containers of seafood. Chinese triads have long smuggled cars into China, suggesting criminal gangs have come to see seafood as a major new source of income.

Periodic clamp-downs on seafood smuggling have featured high-profile jail sentences and hefty fines. However, legitimate importers long requested China to reduce its import tariffs on seafood, which are as high as 25 percent. Chillier political relations between China and Vietnam have seen Chinese authorities target seafood imports smuggled into China, which was hitherto tolerated by a border customs regime known for corruption.

In a high profile court case in southern China last year a court in Jiangmen, a city in Guangdong province, near Hong Kong, sentenced eight offenders to between three and 12 years for smuggling CNY 1.3 billion (USD 208 million; EUR 182 million) worth of seafood — principally shark fin and sea cucumbers — into mainland China using forged documents and by understating cargo records.

Vast quantities of high-end food imports appear to be entering China illegally as demand for meat and seafood rises. Dalian police earlier this year claimed more than 6,000 MT of beef smuggled from the United States by what local media have termed a “well-organized criminal gang” that fabricated false contracts and receipts in order to gain customs clearance.

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