A Port Elizabeth abalone syndicate poacher has been sentenced to 20 years in jail by the High Court sitting in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.Judge Dayalin Chetty sentenced 48-year-old Morne Blignaut for two counts of racketeering and one count of operating a fishing establishment without a permit.Blignaut and his co-accused who will be sentenced on Thursday; Frederick Nance, 22, William Nance, 55, Petrus Smith, 34, Jacobus Naumann, 37, Marshelle Blignaut, 42, were arrested by the Hawks in June 2016 and charged with racketeering."The Hawks conducted a project-driven investigation into this abalone syndicate. Blignaut and his accomplices were the subjects of this project-driven investigation dubbed 'Little Rhino'. Investigations established that from July 2013 to August 2014, the syndicate made a total of R30m from their criminal activities," provincial spokesperson Captain Anelisa Feni said in a statement.READ: SA has lost 96 million abalone to poaching since 2000 - new reportBased on the evidence presented to the court, the accused was described by Chetty, in his judgement, as the "arch villain in the widespread plunder of abalone from our coastal waters". "The accused's role in this transnational criminal syndicate was integral to its success and, given the duration of the activity on the farm, must have yielded handsome financial rewards," Chetty said.No remorseThe evidence presented in court pointed out the extent of Blignaut's involvement as well as his previous convictions."Although the accused's previous convictions for possession of an excessive amount of abalone can perhaps be described as antiquated, [they] cannot be ignored. [They] manifest a predilection for repeat offences and the associated financial rewards no doubt provided a clear inducement to continue as this case so graphically portrays," Chetty said.Chetty also found that the accused showed no remorse for his crime as he only pleaded guilty following a witness's testimony."If he was truly remorseful he would, prior to the separation of his trial from that of his then co-accused, have taken full responsibility for his role but he desisted."The not guilty plea was a strategy to test the waters and only after a sober realisation of its futility post (investigating officer Warrant Officer Leon) Eksteen's testimony was the altered plea entered. It is disingenuous in the extreme to assert that genuine remorse triggered the plea," Chetty added.Eastern Cape acting provincial head for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), Brigadier Gopz Govender has welcomed the 20-year sentence. He further warned potential offenders that the Hawks would not take this crime lightly."We wish to inform the broader community that abalone plundering will not be taken lightly and this sentence should inform would-be poachers that they are likely to face a similar imprisonment term after we arrest them," Govender said.