The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a money laundering case against an alleged smuggling kingpin of endangered sea cucumbers in Tamil Nadu's Rameswaram, the agency said on Thursday. It raided the residential premises and hotel Raamajeyam owned by the accused, Villayutham, at Rameswaram on August 9 after filing a case under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The criminal case was registered after studying at least 13 FIRs filed against him by the local police under various sections of the law, including the Wildlife Protection Act.
The operation resulted in seizure of a large number of sale deeds, cash receipts, cheque books and other incriminating documents. "Sale deed papers and other documents seized during the search operation revealed the value of assets of Villayutham to be around Rs 5 crore," the ED claimed in a statement. It said the smuggling of sea cucumbers is a "serious environmental crime" that takes place in the waters between India and Sri Lanka. Sea cucumbers are marine animals known as the 'cleaners of the sea' and they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.
"Sea cucumbers, also called Holothurians, are marine endangered species. They are an important constituent of the coral ecosystem in the Gulf of Mannar," it said. A product called Beche-de-mer is derived from processed sea cucumbers and is "commercially important and considered as a delicacy in China, Japan and Korea." The marine animal is touted to have aphrodisiac qualities and pharmacological properties, the agency said.
India, in 2001, included all species of sea cucumbers under the schedule-I category of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and totally banned their collection. "These animals have also been protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)," the ED said.