He was sentenced in the Court for the Southern District of New York for charges related to a case stemming from his company’s poaching of marine life, specifically West Coast rock lobster.
Along with his prison sentence, Bengis will now have to pay $37.3million (R485m) in restitution because he had failed to pay an original 2004 restitution order.
Yesterday, an official in the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York told the Cape Times Bengis had now been found guilty on several counts, but each would run concurrently, meaning he would serve just under five years in prison.
Although he has dual South African and American citizenship, Bengis left the US soon after serving a prison term and emigrated to Israel. But he failed to pay restitution.
Now resident in Tel Aviv, he will have to be extradited.
For being a prominent member of Cape Town’s Jewish community and one of its biggest donors, Ben-Gurion University controversially awarded Bengis an honorary doctorate in 2003.
In 2014, Bengis filed a suit against the South African government for $11m (R143m) for helping US courts jail him for smuggling South African lobsters and Patagonian toothfish into the US, and for having to pay $22.5m restitution to the government in 2012.
Court cases against Bengis have spanned more than a decade in South African and US courtrooms, and had stemmed from a single tip-off to the former Scorpions in 2001.
The elite police unit had been told there was a container in Cape Town Harbour, bound for New York, which held illegally caught lobster.
Between 1987 and 2001, Bengis and co-conspirators were involved in an elaborate scheme for poaching huge quantities of rock lobster, then exporting it illegally to the US.
In the same year, US officials seized another container of illegally caught fish packed by Bengis’s now-defunct Hout Bay Fishing.
He pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2002 to 28 charges under the Marine Living Resources Act. His son, David Bengis, was also jailed for a year.
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.
Earlier this week the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) said it had been successful in repatriating around R40m from Bengis’ assets.
The award was made to the department after officials testified on July 12, convincing US District Judge Lewis Kaplan to order restitution and forfeiture of the proceeds of crime which had stemmed from poaching West Coast rock lobster.
Daff acting chief director for monitoring control and surveillance Thembalethu Vico said: “Daff, after having spared no effort in convincing the American court, is also positive that the sought forfeiture order of approximately $100m of the proceeds of crime, from which Bengis has benefited through poaching and exporting West Coast rock lobster, would be granted by Judge Kaplan.”
He would not say whether Bengis, who had already served a year in an American jail, still had property in South Africa.
He said Bengis was not the first poacher where an order to seize assets had been sought for forfeiture to the state.
“We are committed to promoting the rule of law and to sending a message that poaching of the marine living resources does not pay.
“Daff will stop at nothing to ensure that the full might of the law is applied against anyone who is found to be robbing the South African communities by stealing their invaluable fisheries resources,” said Vico.