It has been a difficult year for us in France. I have been accused of being the mastermind of an international criminal organisation involved in exporting glass eels from France to Asia via Iceland and Greece using our aircraft.
While on holiday in France with my wife this summer I was snatched by the Gendarmes from a meeting with my office administrator.
I was held in custody of two days in solitary confinement with no washing facilities, the toilet limited to a hole in the floor. The floor was heavily soiled with urine and the bedding with sweat from the previous inmates. Finally interrogated, somewhat brutally, by various organisations including Customs, CITES and the Civil Aviation authorities for 12 hours for two consecutive days before being presented to the investigating magistrate on the third day for a further session of interviews.
It has taken some time but my lawyers has been presented with some of the paper work for the investigation. There is more than 3000 pages. Every telephone call has been monitored since January 2013 and I am advised that some 30-40 personnel have been working on the case at a time. Apparently the cost of the investigation to date is in excess of € 250,000 Euros.
This has been an absolute field day for our competitors. Allegations have been made that I have shipped 8-10 tonnes of glass eels to Asia, that I am in prison in France and 1000 kgs of illegal glass eels were found by the Gendarme Maritime at our depot in France. These allegations are not true, neither myself nor the French Company have been involved in illegal exports or the purchase of black market glass eels. Such actions are not compatible with the ethos of supporting a sustainable program. What has transpired from this investigation is that when we closed the business early each year because there was no more quota remaining an employee used his position and knowledge of the fishermen to continue buy on his own account glass eels from the black market which he then sold to other wholesalers. Subject to meeting all the rules in France that protect employees this person has now been dismissed.
To compound the problem further SEG removed the sustainable status of the French company and as our agenda in France is to work only with a sustainable program we have had to close the company. Just before Christmas SEG lifted the suspension but unfortunately too late for the company to renew its certification for this year. From a legal point of view, and for the sake of accuracy, presumption of innocence is the rule in France like in any other European country. Fortunately we have been able to retain our sustainable status in the UK.
On one hand it has been a bad experience and quite troubling when people are motivated to make capital out of this incident. On the other hand it is very gratifying to see that there are persons and clients who still believe in the work I am undertaking to promote a sustainable agenda in France and have really gone out of their way to provide moral and material support in these difficult times. The French are not all bad and there are some very generous people who went out of their way to help my wife who found herself in a strange country, with absolutely no command of the language, no money, no phone and no idea where our car had been abandoned when I was arrested.
The case is far from being resolved. It will be necessary to wait for the court hearing to be able to clear my name.
The English season starts in the UK on February 15th. The vast quantity of glass eels was not manageable last year. There were simply too many glass eels available last year and it would have been impossible to meet the formal restocking target of 60% without the generosity of the local fishermen who provided glass eels virtually free of charge for local restocking projects. This sort of generosity is not sustainable. We look forward to a more manageable season this time.
2 million JY = €7300 Euros