The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, has welcomed a New York court decision to pay South Africa approximately R294 million following unlawful harvesting of South African fish by a syndicate.
On Friday 14 June 2013, the United States Court ordered that Arnold Bengis, Jeffrey Noll and David Bengis pay restitution of nearly USD 22.5 million, approximately R294 million to South Africa following extensive, unlawful harvesting of south and west coast rock lobster in South African waters.
Arnold Bengis was the managing director of Hout Bay Fishing Industries (Pty) Ltd. This is the largest restitution amount ever awarded under the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is an American law that makes it a crime to import fish, wildlife or plants that are taken in violation of another country’s laws, into the United States of America (US).
Hout Bay Fishing Industries (Pty) Ltd engaged in an elaborate scheme, to illegally catch and export large quantities of south and west coast rock lobster from South Africa (SA) to the US.
In South Africa, they underreported catches, bribed fisheries inspectors and submitted false information to the department. They also exploited South African workers whom they employed without valid work permits, from the Hout Bay Fishing Industry factory to work for low wages in their American processing factory.
In May 2001 Marine & Coastal Management, now the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, advised their counterparts in New York that a container of illegal harvested fish had been shipped from Hout Bay Fishing (Pty) Ltd to New York. This was intercepted by the American authorities who then commenced their own investigation with extensive cooperation from MCM officials and the Scorpions.
After being charged in the United States, Arnold Bengis, Jeffrey Noll and David Bengis were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and were fined a total of USD13, 3 million. This followed the investigation by the Scorpions and the successful prosecution of Hout Bay Fishing (Pty) Ltd in South Africa in April 2002 for illegal fishing. Hout Bay Fishing paid a fine of 12 million Rand and two of its fishing vessels were forfeited to the State for overharvesting of south and west coast rock lobster between 1987 and 2001.
“This sets an important international precedent for over-harvesting of natural resources. It demonstrates the lengths and commitment of DAFF to pursue, no matter how long it takes, those who poach South Africa’s natural resources, in this case since 2001, more than 12 years. Our country is not only fighting poaching in fisheries, but we have seen the extent to which animals like the rhino and lion are being targeted. This sends out a message to all multinational companies and syndicates that we will not be deterred in our resolve to bring those who are involved in corruption to book. We are also aware that the price of rooting out corruption is high and that as leadership our credibility will be questioned and vilified. But we are determined to see to it that we protect our environment and natural resources through all means possible,” said Minister Joemat-Pettersson.
Mr Desmond Stevens, the Acting Director General of the Fisheries Branch in the Department, added that it is hoped that the money will be paid into the Marine Living Resources Fund and be used to fight syndicates that are plundering our natural resources.