ONE OF the most recent high-profile, international, white-collar fisheries crimes involving South Africa and the US is as follows:
Businesspersons Arnold Bengis, his son David Bengis and their partner Jeffrey Noll, who were charged in 2013 in the international case, US versus Arnold Bengis et al,” he explains.
Arnold Bengis was the Managing Director and Chairman of Hout Bay Fishing Industries (Pty) Ltd in Cape Town, South Africa, and he also exercised control over Icebrand Seafoods, Inc and Associated Sea Fisheries Inc in Manhattan. Noll was the chairman and president of both Associated and Icebrand in New York. David Bengis was the President of Icebrand Seafoods Maine Inc in Portland, Maine.
From 1987 to August 1, 2001, the accused and their co-conspirators, engaged in an elaborate scheme to, among other things, harvest illegally large quantities of South and West Coast rock lobster, far in excess of applicable quotas, and then to export the illegally harvested lobster from South Africa to the US.
Bringing them to book took time, but the US Department of Justice, US Attorney’s Office, issued the following statement on June 14, 2013:
Mr Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the US obtained a restitution order against ARNOLD MAURICE BENGIS, DAVID BENGIS, and JEFFREY NOLL in the amount of nearly $29.5 million in favour of the Republic of South Africa. This is the largest known restitution order in a Lacey Act case in history.
The Lacey Act is a federal statute that makes it a crime to, among other things, import into the US any fish, wildlife, or plants taken in violation of state or foreign law.
The defendants under-reported the fish harvested to South African authorities and bribed South African fisheries inspectors to help them carry out their illegal harvesting scheme.
They also submitted false export documents to South African authorities to conceal their over-harvesting.
As part of the scheme, the defendants arranged for previously disadvantaged South African citizens who did not have valid US working permits to work for low wages at their fish processing facility in Portland, Maine, where the employees were required to process, among other things, illegally harvested South African rock lobster.
Abuse of labour and slave labour is a common feature in international sea fisheries crime, as discussed in a feature titled “Slaves at Sea” by Kotie Geldenhuys in the February issue of Servamus, a South African community-based safety and security magazine.
The introduction reads: “Imagine a situation where you are working on a fishing vessel but when the captain gets tired of you, he simply sells you to another captain for profit. Such scenarios, and much worse, are the living realities of thousands of people working on remote fishing vessels as victims of human trafficking.”
It goes on to explain that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing has been linked to numerous crimes, which violate the rights of vulnerable people:
Migrant labourers and fishers fall victim to human traffickers for the purpose of forced labour on board fishing vessels, rafts or fishing platforms, in ports or in fish processing plants. Women and children in fishing ports are vulnerable to organised sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution by fishers. There are also reports of women and children being kidnapped and kept on vessels for the purpose of sex.
Violence is a common way to control labour.
“What we need to face is that this level of cruelty and criminality is increasing, and that traditional legal approaches to combating illegal fishing and the associated illegal activities have met with limited success,” says Van As.
By Heather Dugmore
18/05/16 Early Edition