FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
COMPANY PRESIDENT CHARGED IN CAVIAR SMUGGLING CONSPIRACY
Miami-Based Ring Allegedly Used Paid Couriers To Smuggle Caviar In Suitcases
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Viktor Tsimbal, the President of Beluga Caviar Inc. has been arrested and charged with organizing a caviar smuggling conspiracy in violation of wildlife protection laws, including the Endangered Species Act. An indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Miami, Fla., and announced today by Guy Lewis, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Tsimbal, 43, is a Russian national and at the time of the offenses was the president and owner of Beluga Caviar, Inc., a Florida corporation located in North Miami Beach. The indictment charges that Tsimbal paid couriers to smuggle suitcases filled with caviar into the United States.
"Recent prosecutions have demonstrated that the caviar trade is plagued by unscrupulous black market trafficking that requires vigorous enforcement," said Sansonetti. "The Justice Department is dedicated to enforcing the laws designed to protect and preserve protected species."
United States Attorney Lewis said, "We are committed to vigorously prosecuting those who place the prospect of profits before environmental concerns and violate the Federal Endangered Species Act."
Sturgeon are a species of prehistoric origin that can live up to 100 years. Because the time necessary to reach egg-bearing age can be up to 20 years and because the fish is killed in the process of obtaining the roe that is salted to make caviar, sturgeon are especially vulnerable. A major threat to the survival of the sturgeon is the trade in black market caviar smuggled from Russia and other Caspian sea nations.
The indictment alleges that Tsimbal made travel arrangements, including airline and hotel accommodations for three paid couriers. Couriers were put up in an apartment in Warsaw, Poland where they were given pre-packed luggage filled with caviar. Three of Tsimbal's couriers made a total of 48 trips during a 13 month period in 1998-1999, according to the indictment.
Tsimbal is also charged with money laundering for depositing the proceeds of the wildlife smuggling scheme into foreign bank accounts, and with obstruction of justice for directing a witness to provide false testimony to the grand jury. A total of $390,000 was deposited by Tsimbal into a bank account maintained in the name of one of the smugglers, according to the indictment. According to Court documents, the investigation began after Tsimbal offered to sell sturgeon caviar with false labels stating that the contents were "Lumpfish Roe" – an unprotected species. Today's indictment charges that the defendant purchased this caviar from a smuggler.
If convicted, Tsimbal could face up to five years in prison for each of seven counts charging conspiracy and smuggling. The maximum sentence for each of two counts of money laundering is twenty years in prison and the two counts of obstruction of justice each carry a possible term of ten years in prison. The maximum criminal fine for each of the 11 felony counts contained in the indictment is $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the crime.
The case is being investigated by special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Customs Service as well as the Food and Drug Administration, and is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. The investigation is continuing.