The investigation began in 2017 when customs officers seized nearly 800 kg of silver eels near the city of Bordeaux, in the southwest, bound for China, as well as 200 kg near Charles de Gaulle outside Paris, bound for Thailand.
Over the next four years, investigators uncovered a network in France and Spain that exported 46 million tonnes of eels – considered an endangered species since the early 2000s.
“Over the past 30 years, the European eel population has plunged by 75%, a decline with multiple causes, including these illegal activities,” said the French gendarmerie in a statement.
They also discovered a money laundering operation spread over several countries including Bulgaria and using shell companies in Ireland and Panama, which processed some 18.5 million euros.
Nine wholesalers and market brokers in France were indicted in 2019, and this year one of the ringleaders, a Spaniard, and the directors of a Spanish transport company were also indicted.