Monday, August 21, 2017

Fish bladders from endangered species for Chinese soup

Image result for Song Shen Zhen, 73, of Calexico, California

Image result for totoaba macdonaldi fish

China’s illegal trade in the rare totoaba fish bladder is driving an endangered species of vaquita fish to the brink of extinction, according to a new report.
Numbers of the vaquita have been decimated by illegal poachers using gill nets to trap the totoaba fish, nicknamed “money maw” or “aquatic cocaine” for its staggeringly high price tag on the Asian market.
While prices have fallen in recent years, some large totoaba bladders can still fetch more than $50,000 each on the Chinese black market.READ M
Both species are found only in the northernmost corner of Mexico's Cortez Sea and both are critically endangered, with only 60 vaquita thought to be left in the wild.
The totoaba fish are highly sought after for their alleged aphrodisiac properties and improoved sexual performance.  
The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) are now warning of a “buoyant trade” in China, with “no attempt to curb the practice” despite repeated condemnation from environmental activists.
EIA oceans campaign head Clare Perry said the Chinese government needed to acknowledge its vital role in saving the endangered vaquita species.
A Chinese trader shows EIA investigators a rare, totoaba fish maw (EIA)
"Trade is happening openly of the totoaba in mainland China despite it being illegal, and we actually found a whole new center for the trade in Shantou that had clearly seen no efforts from the Chinese government," she told The Independent.
"Given the information out there, it's quite a shocking lack of law enforcement when you have the survival of a species at risk."
Ms Perry also warned of a lack of incentive for Mexican smugglers to stop the poaching, warning it was a low risk alternative to cocaine smuggling, with high reward.

She said: “The trade has been going on for over a century.
"However, when Mexican fisherman started making a lot of money, the organised crime groups got involved, as they do with all of these wildlife products where they see quick profit.
“That’s when the trade really exploded.”
Julian Newman, EIA’s campaigns director said dual responsibility needed to be taken to effectively stamp out the trade between the Mexican suppliers of the maw and the Chinese market driving the fishing.
In 2015, Mexican federal environment agency Profepa revealed the commodity was worth more than cocaine in the country, with one kilo of bladder selling for the same as 1.5 kilos of the drug.
In an attempt to stamp out the practice, the Mexican military scours the 5,019-square mile stretch of Californian Gulf several times a day looking for poachers.
Speaking to Mexican newspaper Reforma, one army chief, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Traffickers entered the business forcefully, applying their organisational structures and their corrupting influence.
“Organised crime has established networks, routes, contacts, points of sale and padrinos, or sponsors, in official institutions.
“What was once used to traffic drugs was implemented for the totoaba.”
However, the Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) reported that traffickers often camouflaged the bladders with other legally-fished maw.
One environment official said: “The training of police agents isn’t enough, be it at the municipal, state or federal levels.
“The situation is the same with the Army, Navy and customs personnel: they’re not trained to detect these crimes.”
Two vaquita spotted in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, with only 60 thought to be left in the wild (Todd Pusser)
The vaquita is the smallest and rarest cetacean species, closely resembling the common porpoise. 
Ms Perry said it was not clear that China had a full understanding of the implications of the totoaba trade for the vaquita.
She said: “Domestically, China must stamp out the illegal trade, but also some very swift awareness raising needs to happen among business traders and consumers to save this critically endangered species.”

B.C. government trying to seize Richmond mansion claiming it was used for violent crime and money laundering

B.C. government trying to seize Richmond mansion claiming it was used for violent crime and money laundering


The B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office is attempting to seize a $5 million, 13,000 square-foot mansion in rural Richmond that was allegedly used for illegal gambling, money laundering, kidnapping and blood-soaked assaults.
B.C.'s civil forfeiture office has filed to seize a $5-million alleged illegal gaming house built on Richmond farmland property shown here.

The sprawling eight bedroom and 11-bathroom property — built on two-acres of Richmond agricultural land reserve — is also at the centre of an anti-gang investigation.
“This is a large and complex investigation,” Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, of B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said Friday. “We anticipate charges and arrests.”
A civil forfeiture action filed June 29 in B.C. Supreme Court alleges that defendant Wen Feng, a woman whose listed address is an expensive property in Aurora, a suburb north of Toronto, bought the Richmond property at 8880 Sidaway Road in October 2015. According to B.C. Assessment Authority records the sale price was $4.4 million. 
But she wasn’t the real owner, and “acted as a nominee or ‘owner of convenience,'” the claim states. The other named defendant, , is Wen Feng’s brother and “the beneficial or ‘true’ owner of the property,” the claim alleges.
The claim also alleges the property “is an instrument and proceeds of unlawful activity,” and “has been used to engage in crimes,” including “laundering the proceeds of unlawful activity.”
In a response filed Aug. 10, Wen Feng says she bought the “recently built, luxurious mansion of over 13,000 square feet” as an investment, and “sourced the down payment” using a line of credit secured against her personal home, the sale proceeds of a Toronto condo, a loan from a friend, and a mortgage from the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Feng’s response says that she leased the property to a group called the Vancouver International Chinese Association, with the understanding this was a group formed by Chinese business people “to facilitate networking and international business” and they would use the property “to hold functions and meetings.”
After May 1, 2016, Feng terminated the lease. The property is now listed for sale at just under $6 million ($1 million over its assessed value). 
Feng’s response denies that she is related to Lap San Peter Pang. Feng says she never authorized him to take possession of her property, and she had no reason to believe illegal activity was occurring at the property.
Feng’s Vancouver lawyer did not respond to Postmedia’s request for comment on the case, and no response has been filed by Lap San Peter Pang.
It was in December 2015 that the B.C. Lottery Corporation was informed the mansion was operating as an illegal casino, the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office claim alleges.
In April 2016, Richmond RCMP entered the mansion in response to an anonymous call, the claim states, “that someone was being held hostage at gunpoint inside the residence.”
Police found gaming tables and 15 people involved in gambling, a large amount of casino chips, playing cards, a money counter, and “an elaborate video surveillance system,” mounted above the gambling tables, the claim alleges.
Next, in May 2017, police responded to reports of a person admitted to Richmond General Hospital who had been stabbed at the property, the claim alleges. Inside the mansion police found “25 individuals, dancing and drinking” and “blood soaked paper towels in a kitchen garbage can.”
The claim states that the defendant Pang told police he was the resident and caretaker of the mansion, which contained hundreds of liquor bottles but no personal items that one would expect to find in a home. Pang was living in only one room equipped with a small hotplate, according to police.
Next, on June 13, 2017, a person was admitted to Richmond hospital “with a broken arm, broken nose, and other injuries after being kidnapped, forcibly confined and assaulted with a metal bar or pipe,” at the property on the previous day “by Mr. Pang and others,” the claim states.
According to B.C. registry records, the Vancouver International Chinese Association was incorporated January 6, 2016, and has a delivery address at 8880 Sidaway Road. There has been no annual report filed and no annual general meeting held, records say. There are three listed directors, who could not be reached for comment.
One director lists a delivery address at a Stolberg Street condo in Richmond; one lists an address at a $2.3 million single-family home on French Street in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood and the other lists an address in an apartment off Kingsway Avenue in Burnaby’s South Slope neighbourhood.
In mortgage documents, Wen Feng’s occupation is listed as “manager.” The civil forfeiture claim says the Bank of Nova Scotia did not participate in or have reason to know of unlawful activity at the mortgaged property.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation is not permitted to comment on the case, a spokesman said.
B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office cases must prove that assets are tied to criminal activity. If successful, the seizure of the $5 million Richmond property would be proportionately significant for the office, which has made more than 2,600 seizures since 2006, totalling $65.8 million.
Anyone who is subject to a civil forfeiture claim has the right to examine the director’s evidence and provide their own evidence before a Justice of the Supreme Court of B.C.
City of Richmond spokeswoman Kim Decker said there are no reported bylaw infractions at 8880 Sidaway, and the city sees the case as a Richmond RCMP and Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit matter.
As Postmedia reported earlier this year, Richmond is facing increasing concerns over speculative or illicit property uses on agricultural land reserved parcels. Because of controversial zoning rules, buyers can build much larger mansions on farmland than they can on residential lots, and also avoid B.C.’s new foreign buyer residential tax.