Shark Fin Scandal Explodes in Ecuador: Sea Shepherd Director Illegally Ousted

All hell broke loose in Ecuador on Saturday over the exposure of political corruption connected with the wealthy shark fin mafia. The mayor of Quito, Paco Moncayo, attempted to block the illegal extradition of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Director Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez with a writ of habeas corpus.

The issuance of a writ of habeas corpus meant that all procedures against O'Hearn-Gimenez should have been frozen until a legal hearing could be held on Monday. However, the government chose to ignore the law by forcing O'Hearn-Gimenez's immediate deportation in violation of the writ and Mayor Moncayo's orders. The Immigration Police seized O'Hearn-Gimenez with the intent to transport him to the Peruvian border. O'Hearn-Gimenez did not have a passport with him. He is an American citizen and a legal resident of Ecuador. The actions of the Immigration Police were blatantly illegal.

This happened because Sea Shepherd, in partnership with the Ecuadorian National Environmental Police, recently busted the biggest shark fin smuggling operation in the port city of Manta. O'Hearn-Gimenez and the police hit three different storage facilities, seizing nearly three tons of sharks fins (about 30,000 fins) and arresting over a dozen criminals-some very wealthy and well-connected criminals, as it turns out.

All of O'Hearn-Gimenez's activities were conducted in partnership with the police, and a legal warrant was obtained prior to raiding the storage areas where the illegal fins were found and confiscated. Sea Shepherd, a registered Ecuadorian non-governmental organization, is party to a signed agreement of cooperation with the Ecuadorian police. Sea Shepherd's role was to provide technical assistance to the police, who led the raid and made the arrests.

In response to the most recent raid and seizure, fishermen in Manta rioted. According to information received by the police, death threats were issued against O'Hearn-Gimenez, and a price was posted on his head. In response to these threats and the contract issued against O'Hearn-Gimenez, the National Police placed him under continuous armed guard.

O'Hearn-Gimenez was driving to a meeting in Quito-escorted by two National Police intelligence officers appointed by the Director General as a security detail-when an Immigration Police truck cut in front of them. Twelve Immigration Police officers jumped out and demanded credentials. They seized O'Hearn-Gimenez's Ecuadorian residency card and informed him that his visa had been revoked by order of the Civil Head of Immigration.

O'Hearn-Gimenez refused to leave the car until Sea Shepherd lawyer, Gina Solis, had arrived. Solis was roughed up by the Immigration Police when she attempted to speak with her client. O'Hearn-Gimenez was then taken to the Immigration Police headquarters and-without due process-orders were issued for his immediate deportation. O'Hearn-Gimenez was denied access to his lawyer during this procedurally insufficient hearing, which took place on Saturday, August 4 at 11:00 am. He made only one statement: "I think this hearing is not following Ecuadorian law and is unjust; let this be reflected on the record."

O'Hearn-Gimenez's wife, a native Ecuadorian from the Galapagos, arrived on the scene with their baby daughter and spoke to the media in defense of her husband's actions. She pointed out that O'Hearn-Gimenez was merely working to uphold the laws protecting marine wildlife in Ecuador and requested that Mayor Moncayo issue a writ of habeas corpus, which he did.

This incident has blown the lid off the cesspool of corruption within the government and military that has allowed unrestricted illegal trade in sharks and wildlife products to flourish in Ecuador.

Shockingly, the judge in Manta released all of the previously arrested poachers and ordered the return of the shark fins to the criminals.

Sea Shepherd has succeeded in revealing the names and faces of the people who control the illegal trade in shark fins. This trail of corruption is forcing those politicians and members of the military involved in the trade to expose themselves as guilty through their illegal attempts to protect criminals by persecuting Sea Shepherd staff and the police.

Sea Shepherd applauds the dedication to duty displayed by the National Police, Director of the Galapagos National Park Raquel Molina, Mayor Moncayo, and Congressman Carlos Gonzalez.

Captain Watson and his crew are on board the conservation research ship Farley Mowat just outside of Ecuadorian waters. Just yesterday, they seized an illegal longline set in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

All efforts are being made to appeal to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to personally review this case and to use his presidential authority to defend justice. Sea Shepherd is confident that he will do so.

Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez needs your support. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Quito by e-mail, phone, or fax to request legal protection for O'Hearn-Gimenez:

Linda L. Jewell
U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador
Phone: 011-593-256-2890
Fax: 011-593-256-1524
After hours phone: 011-593-223-4126 or 011-593-256-1749