SA government targets lobster poacher's US trust millions after conviction

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) will be making use of diplomatic channels and legal remedies to access the funds in an international fishing kingpin's trusts held in Jersey.

Between 1987 and 2000, Arnold Bengis was responsible for poaching West Coast rock lobster and illegally importing it into the US, resulting in a decline in rock lobster numbers.

The 81-year-old was convicted by the New York Southern District Court last year for poaching West Coast rock lobster and was ordered to forfeit $67m to DAFF.

Bengis refused to comply with the restitution order by cleverly shielding his assets in foreign trusts.

Also read: US court orders SA poacher to hand over R479m

DAFF acting director general Mooketsa Ramasodi and deputy director general of fisheries management Siphokazi Ndudane led a legal delegation to stay an order on Bengis' trust assets, which amount to $22m.

"The trusts are held by a complex system of commercial structures and the delegation's inter-governmental co-operation assisted in equipping the Jersey Attorney General in the unravelling of the evasive trust configurations," said Ministry of DAFF spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo.

"The monies held by the trusts in Jersey indicate how organised fisheries crime deprives the people of South Africa of economic benefits which could be used for the promotion of domestic coastal initiatives and compliance measures."

DAFF is now focussing on recovering the rest of the outstanding $67m.

In 2002, a South African court convicted Bengis' company, Hout Bay Fishing, of violating the Marine Living Resources Act.

In 2004, the US District Court convicted Bengis and his son of illegally importing rock lobster into that country. He was jailed for four years and was ordered to pay South Africa over $22m in restitution. Wednesday's order meant he would have to spend another nine months in jail.

Bengis has dual South African and US citizenship and is currently living in Israel.

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