A group of Maltese hunters linked to alleged hunting crimes in Egypt are stranded in Cairo after airports shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The group of about 16 had asked the Maltese government to repatriate them, Times of Malta is informed. They are expected to return from Cairo on Tuesday.

Sources said the men formed part of a network of poachers who were last year subject to a months-long probe by wildlife crime investigators. 

The ring of poachers is suspected to be linked to a series of alleged hunting crimes in Egyptian national parks and nature reserves. 

Last August, more than 700 dead protected birds were confiscated by the authorities concerned during a raid on an illegal taxidermy workshop run by the poachers.  

The birds, which are believed to be legitimised using laundered certificates from vintage collections, have a value of tens of thousands of euro on the Maltese black market. 

Investigative sources say the group is led by a principal organiser of nefarious poaching trips to Egypt in which protected species are shot down and smuggled into the islands.

Maltese poaching trips to Egyptian national parks have in recent years been singled out for having a devastating impact on protected species, as well as links to the illegal guns trade and bribery of park officials.

The men who requested repatriation will likely claim to not have shot a single bird during their stay.

This, sources said, was because the hunters who travel there are known to smuggle their trophies back home through black-market smuggling routes. 

In recent years, the Egyptian authorities have discovered a number of consignments of dead birds wrapped in plastic and even labelled in Maltese, the sources said.

However, while some sporadic arrests of Maltese nationals have taken place for illegal hunting in Egypt, particularly around Lake Nasser on the Egyptian-Suda­nese border, investigators in Malta have scarcely been roped in.

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