Huge Restitution Award Nears for South Africa: Judge recommends $55 million in one of the largest fisheries crime cases

After over a decade of litigation in one of the largest cases involving fisheries crimes, the United States v. Bengis case may finally be nearing a conclusion. On August 16, 2012, United States Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck advised the restitution of nearly USD$55 million to the South African Government for the illegal harvesting of rock lobster by defendants Arnold Bengis, Jeffery Noll, and David Bengis.

Between the years of 1987 to 2001, the defendants were engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to illegally harvest rock lobster from the South and Western Coasts of South Africa. The lobsters were harvested in excess of quota and without permits, and illegally brought into the US for an immense profit.

The defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a US law that makes it a crime to import or transport wildlife or fish into the United States which was caught in violation of foreign or state laws. Cooperation and collaboration between United States officials and South African officials was critical to ensure the successful prosecution of the defendants, and work to return the wealth to South Africa which was stolen by the defendants.

The Magistrate Judge’s report recommends that defendants pay USD$55,883,550 in restitution to the Government of South Africa. The amount was determined by the Ocean and Land Resource Assessment (OLRAC) Method II which calculates the number of poached lobsters by the corresponding market price to determine a final assessment.

This recommendation marks an important step forward regarding the ability to calculate and restore the value of illegally harvested fish resources to the country from which it was stolen. Both the government and the defendants have 14 days to file objections to this recommendation.

Read the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck.