Security forces detained three Hungarian nationals on Friday in the southern city of Antalya on charges of bio-smuggling. Three men are accused of smuggling endemic plants and soil samples in the city's district of Kaş. Sources said the operation against the trio concluded with a record haul of hundreds of plants. Authorities confiscated bulbs of 170 endemic plants and 1,100 pieces of endemic plants.
The suspects were named as botany Professor Attila Molnar from Hungary's Debrecen University and researchers Victor Loki, 30, and Kristof Süreges, 25.
Acting on a tip, security forces captured the three men in a cemetery where they were gathering plants. A search of their car revealed the large cache of plants.
An inventory of confiscated items includes orchid bulbs, DNA material, soil samples, feathers of several bird species and materials to preserve the plants.
Molnar told police he last visited Turkey four years ago to conduct research and said he took plants with him to his country then as well. He admitted to the crime and said he had planned to cultivate crops from the endemic plants he picked in Turkey back in his home country.
The three suspects were released after they were fined while the plants they attempted to smuggle were confiscated.
With its diverse flora, Turkey is a popular destination for bio-smugglers. İsmail Gökhan Deniz, an associate professor of biology, said Turkey is rich in orchids with some 170 subspecies, and it has unfortunately made the country popular among smugglers. He said they were conducting a project to raise awareness about bio-smuggling, and Friday's operation was a result of a tip by locals who were trained in how to spot smugglers.
Authorities admit the fines issued under a law to protect the environment are not a strong enough deterrent and pledged to introduce new regulations with heavier sentences against bio-smugglers. The government launched a project against bio-smuggling in 41 cities, and the project will be upgraded to encompass the entire nation in 2015. The government has earmarked a budget of TL 1.5 million ($683,355) for the project, which includes legal and administrative measures against smuggling, and a campaign to raise awareness against bio-smuggling as well as gather public support against the smugglers. The country is home to at least 11,000 plant species, 3,000 of them indigenous to Turkey.