SA waits for huge payment

2013-06-18 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The long wait has started for a Hout Bay businessman to return about R224 million, which he owes to the South African government.

A United States court last week ended a prolonged legal process by ruling that Arnold Bengis, owner of Hout Bay Fishing Industries, and his two co-accused must return this amount after they had illegally exported large quantities of crayfish from the West Coast to the U.S. between 1987 and 2001.

The court on Friday ruled that Arnold (77), and his son David (43) and their business partner Jeffrey Noll (62) must pay these amounts — the largest restitution yet awarded in terms of Lacey Act that governs imports of fish, game and plants to the U.S.

Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of U.S. or foreign law.

“Now it must be determined how the money will get here and which government department will get the money,” said Professor Jan Glazewski of the Marine Research Institute at the University of Cape Town. The U.S. attorneys said they have no idea how long the process could take.

The three accused had already paid almost R70 million to the South African government and still owe R224 million.

Their assets had been frozen in terms of a previous court order, but district Judge Lewis Kaplan warned in his ruling on Friday that the balance of their accounts held in the Channel Islands should not fall below the amount owed to South Africa.

“The verdict shows that those who break another country’s environmental laws by getting fish, game or plants illegally and then exporting them to the U.S., will have to compensate their victims.” said Manhattan attorney-general Preet Bharara.

The three illegally exported large quantities of crayfish from South Africa to the U.S. from 1987 to 2001 by bribing local fishery inspectors and forging export permits.

They also employed at low wages previously disadvantaged South Africans at their fish-processing factory in Portland, Maine, without the necessary U.S. working permits.

Arnold and David currently live in London, and Noll in Boca Raton, Florida.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, Sapa reported that Desmond Stevens, the acting head of Fisheries, said his department was overjoyed at the verdict.

2003: The three accused are charged for, among

other things, importing illegal crayfish to the United States.

April 2004: Arnold Bengis and Jeffrey Noll plead guilty on one charge of conspiring to transgress the Lacey Act and smuggling. David Bengis pleads guilty to a charge of conspiring.

July 2004: Judge Lewis Kaplan sentences Arnold Bengis to 46 months’ imprisonment, Noll to 30 months and David Bengis to a year. Arnold and Noll must pay more than $5,9 million.

2007: Judge Kaplan rejects the U.S government’s application for restitution to South Africa.

January 2011: The U.S. appeal court reverses Kaplan’s decision, and rules that South Africa had a property interest and was a victim.

August 2012: Judge Andrew Peck recommends that Judge Kaplan order that more than $54,8 million must be paid to South Africa. Kaplan adapts the amount to $29 495 800, (more than R224 million), deducting the $7 049 080 (R69 515 912) already paid to the South African government.

how the case unfolded

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