Stolen Turtles
STRANDED: Black turtles waiting to be returned to Morocco

SPAIN’S tax agency has proposed a €20,700 fine against a Cadiz environmentalist for trying to return smuggled turtles back to Morocco.

Juan Clavero works with Ecologistas en Accion alongside Antonio Costa, who the Hacienda is also seeking to fine €1,600 for guarding two of the turtles.

The species in question is the black turtle, found in north Africa.

“Neither Juan Clavero nor Antonio Acosta have brought any smuggled turtles from Morocco, nor marketed them,” said Ecologistas en Accion in a statement.

“They are only volunteers of an environmental association with extensive experience and solvency that has organised a pioneering project in Andalucia to return turtles.”

It added that the proposed sanction ‘could not be more inexplicable, arbitrary and unfair.’

“We understand that it is a mistake,” Juan Clavero told news agency EFE, who is stunned by the paradox of being accused of fraud by a project which seeks to return a protected species to its home.

The project has guarded around 23 of the protected turtles in El Puerto de Santa Maria – some of them for 15 years.

“People brought them from Morocco as a ‘souvenir’,” added Juan Clavero, “When a few years ago the laws were hardened and it was considered a crime to illegally remove a protected species from their place of origin, many released them and others handed them to us.”

Ecologists in Action came up with their pioneering project to return the animals around two years ago.

atlas mountains
The turtles are native to Morocco

It came after new legislation stated that these animals should be returned to their habitat.

The group obtained the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Livestock, and Sustainable Development (CAGPyDS) of the Junta de Andalucia, and the High Commission of Water, Forests and Fight against Desertification of the Kingdom of Morocco.

The last official document needed to return the turtles was a certificate which authorises the transfer of protected species from one country to another.

This document can only be issued by the Official Foreign Trade Inspection, Surveillance and Regulation Service (SOIVRE).

The agency had written to the project saying it hoped to give it the certificate once SEPRONA, the animal arm of the Guardia Civil, made a report on the turtles.

However that report, instead of serving as the final piece in the puzzle of a bureaucratic nightmare to obtain a certificate, ended up being seen as evidence of smuggling.

The Provincial Directorate of Commerce soon denounced the organisation to the Tax Agency for smuggling a protected species.

“I think they were wrong, some bureaucrat will have received the report from SEPRONA and will have thought that it was a raid by the Guardia Civil,” the environmentalists said.

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