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Bengis to pay $1.25m for role in illegal lobster catching

News

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

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DAVID Bengis, son of former Cape Town fishing magnate and convicted poacher and smuggler Arnold Bengis, has agreed to pay $1.25 million (R20.6m) to the South African government as restitution for the illegal harvesting of rock lobster in the country’s waters.

This is part of the $22.5m restitution a US court ordered Bengis senior, junior and co-conspirator Jeffrey Noll pay in restitution to South Africa for the losses caused by their importation of poached lobster to the US in violation of US law.

The lobster were poached in South Africa between 1987 and 2001.

Eric Creizman, David Bengis’ lawyer in New York, said the proposal to pay this amount to South Africa was still pending review and endorsement by the US court.

“The proposed order represents a final settlement between the United States and David Bengis of the restitution component and, therefore, the entire US criminal proceeding, as to David Bengis,” Creizman said.

The restitution payment to South Africa was part of his obligation in the US criminal case, and not an agreement between him and South Africa, Creizman said.

This is the latest step in a succession of court cases, here and in the US, that spanned more than a decade and stemmed from a single tip-off to the former Scorpions in 2001 that there was a container in Cape Town harbour, bound for New York, that held illegally caught lobster.

In the same year, US officials seized another container of illegally caught fish packed by Arnold Bengis’ now-defunct Hout Bay Fishing.

He pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2002 to 28 charges under the Marine Living Resources Act. David Bengis was also jailed for a year.

This is the latest step in a succession of court cases, here and in the US, that spanned more than a decade and stemmed from a single tip-off to the former Scorpions in 2001 that there was a container in Cape Town harbour, bound for New York, that held illegally caught lobster.

The Scorpions alerted the US authorities which led to a massive national and international investigation that exposed the breadth and depth of corruption in the fishing industry, involving top company directors, boat owners, skippers and government fishery inspectors.

Arnold Bengis was the mastermind behind the international lobster and toothfish poaching and smuggling syndicate, and pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2002 to 28 charges under the Marine Living Resources Act. His now defunct company Hout Bay Fishing Pty Ltd was convicted on numerous charges of plundering South Africa’s marine resources and the company had to pay the state R40m in a plea bargain.

In 2001 US officials seized another container of illegally caught fish packed by Hout Bay Fishing. After a lengthy investigation - during which Arnie Bengis hired a private investigator to follow the US officials in an attempt to locate the seized container, US officials arrested Bengis father, son and Noll in 2003. The three, from Cape Town, had dual South African-US citizenship and lived in New York. The US authorities said the three had engaged in “an elaborate scheme to illegally harvest large quantities of South Coast and West Coast rock lobster in South African waters for export to the United States in violation of both South African and US law”.

The US Lacey Act allows for criminal prosecution for wildlife taken in violation of both US laws and foreign laws.

In a New York federal court Arnold Bengis and Noll pleaded guilty to smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. Bengis senior was sentenced to jail for three years and 10 months, and Noll to 30 months jail. Both were ordered to forfeit a total of $5.9 million.

David Bengis was jailed for one year.

Those convicted under the Lacey Act can be ordered to pay their “victim” restitution. In 2013 a US court ordered the trio pay restitution of $22.4 million to South Africa as the “victim”.

The current proposal to the US Department of Justice, by agreement of the parties, is that David Bengis pay restitution of $1.25 million “in the light of the record of evidence and the defendant’s plea agreement”.

 

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