U.S. Seeks Millions in Restitution from South African Poacher
The U.S. government is seeking up to $62 million in restitution from a South African businessman who pleaded guilty in 2004 to selling illegally caught toothfish and rock lobster, the Cape Argus of Cape Town, South Africa, reported today.
Arnold Bengis, chairman and managing director of Hout Bay Fishing Industries in South Africa, his son David Bengis, president of Icebrand Seafoods in Portland, Maine, and Jeffrey Noll, their New York business partner, were convicted under the U.S. Lacey Act, which prohibits the sale of wildlife harvested in violation of any state, tribal or foreign law. Arnold Bengis served 46 months in prison; Noll 30 months; and David Bengis one year.
Arnold Bengis and Noll were ordered to forfeit nearly $5.9 million, and David Bengis to forfeit the proceeds of the sale of Icebrand Seafoods about $1.5 million.
A U.S. District Court also ordered that restitution to the damage caused to South Africa's fishing industry be set at a future hearing, with the U.S. government suggesting an amount of $39.7 million. The parties instead agreed to settle out of court in 2005, but at the last minute Arnold Bengis refused to sign this agreement.
A magistrate judge then recommended that Bengis and his co-defendants pay no restitution for various legal reasons, which the District Court accepted.
The U.S. government has now formally appealed the ruling and Bengis's lawyers have until the end of August to reply. The case may be heard by year's end, and if restitution is ordered and paid, the U.S. government may give the money to South Africa, the Cape Argus reported.