The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has asked for a revised forfeiture order to be imposed in order to recover assets from former Hout Bay Fishing Industries head Arnold Bengis, believing the convicted West Coast Rock Lobster poacher had done $100 million worth of damage to South Africa’s marine resources.
However, for Hout Bay fishing expert Donovan van der Heyden, Mr Bengis’s actions had an even more damaging impact on fishing communities in the Western Cape.
Between 1987 and 2001, Bengis and his co-conspirators, his son David and his former business partner, Jeffrey Noll, were involved in poaching huge quantities of rock lobster and then exporting it illegally to the US. Mr Bengis was sentenced to 46 months in jail, his son to one year and Mr Noll to 30 months. They were all released after serving their terms.
On Wednesday July 12, Law360 reported that in a New York federal court, DAFF had asked for help in recovering Bengis’s assets.
In a plea deal in 2004, the judge ordered Bengis pay $5.9 million.
South Africa then asked Bengis and his co-accused to pay restitution to the government, and while this was rejected in 2007, in 2011 the US Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, and in 2012 they were ordered to pay $22.5 million.
In the New York court last week, DAFF representative Siphokazi Ndudane said “the riches for this individual (Bengis) came at a huge expense”, prompting US District Judge Lewis Kaplan to order a re-sentencing of Mr Bengis because “he has failed to make some $21 million of outstanding restitution”, according to the report.
The court heard that Mr Bengis had allegedly stashed on the island of Jersey.
According to the report, South Africa’s counsel, Andrew Bauer, requested Judge Kaplan not to order a new forfeiture penalty with only the Jersey assets in mind.
“Bauer said Bengis’ alleged shell game in Jersey is likely not to be the only place where he has stashed money,” it said.
However, Mr Van der Heyden has questioned the figure being asked for by DAFF.
“How do you estimate a figure? Where do you start in establishing how much was taken from the sea?” he asked.
“What we have seen is that the government has been too quick to grab the amounts suggested in court. The truth is that what Bengis and others did has taken away
from everyone. It is not just the government that has been affected, but also local fishing communities.”
He said what had occurred had been highly problematic for the fishers “on the ground” who had been punished by Mr Bengis’s actions.
“What he’s taken out has impacted on the fishing quantums, so people are now being restricted in terms of how much they can fish. Don’t tell us there are not enough crayfish. The systems and processes have not worked properly, yet it is fishers on the local level who have been punished.”
Mr Van der Heyden was also convinced that Bengis and his co-accused had not acted alone.
“We need to establish who he worked with and bring those people to book as well. We need to dig deeper to identify them.”