Freeze on illegal lobster magnate’s multi-millions
A SOUTH African fishing magnate who made a fortune selling illegally caught lobster has been told that he cannot get his hands on millions of pounds held in the Island.
The Royal Court has decided to maintain a freeze on the assets of Arnold Bengis, who admitted his involvement in a conspiracy to land huge amounts of the prized shellfish in excess of permitted quotas between 1999 until 2001. The illegally caught lobster were shipped to the US.
The court was asked to rule on whether Bengis could have access to more than $23 million, which formed part of the $37.2 million [£26.4 million] which had been the subject of a forfeiture order. An appeal against the order was launched by a Lichtenstein-based trust company.
Bengis, who owned Hout Bay Fishing Industries, pleaded guilty in a South African court in 2002 to 28 charges under the country’s Marine Resources Act.
South African police alerted the US authorities to his offending, sparking investigations by law enforcement in both countries which led to a number of other individuals being prosecuted.
Around $23.3 million of Mr Bengis’s money was ‘held by three companies with SG Hambos Bank (Channel Islands) Limited in Jersey’ according a judgment issued by the Royal Court setting out its reasons for rejecting the appeal.
On 21 July 2017, following a request from US authorities, the Attorney General granted a forfeiture order of $37.2 million [£26.4 million].
The judgment said: ‘It [Hout Bay] entered a plea agreement on 29 April 2002, whereby it admitted for a period 1999 to 2001 to over-harvesting fish products and to facilitating the relevant quota holders from over-harvesting West Coast lobster.
‘Landing fish products while no fishery control officers were present and/or without recording the true amount of fish product landed as it was obliged to do.’
The operational director of Hout Bay was also charged with multiple offences on the same indictment, including the bribing of fishery-control officers so that they turned a blind-eye to Hout Bay’s ‘landing of fish product’ in excess of its permitted amounts.
The judgment details how the officers were party to the conspiracy and were aware of the amount of fish landed by Hout Bay and how it was being under-recorded.
Liechtenstein-based First Trust Management Limited AG, represented by Advocate Howard Sharp, brought the appeal and applied for the forfeiture to be lifted.
However, the court deemed that there was strong suspicion that proceeds from Bengis’ crimes, committed in the US, had ‘somehow’ found their way into one of the companies listed in the forfeiture order.
The judgment stated: ‘The court does not consider the prospects of the Attorney General as being so weak that the saisie [forfeiture order] should be lifted.
‘There is a strong public interest in depriving criminals of the proceeds of their offending and the court should not insist on too high a standard of likelihood of success before granting a saisie.
‘It is sufficient if there are reasonable prospects of success.’
Speaking after the case, Attorney General Robert MacRae QC said: ‘This case again clearly demonstrates the firm resolve of the Jersey authorities to combat international financial crime and money laundering. It shows that Jersey is no place to hide the proceeds of crime.’