Lengthy jail term for perly kingpin
It’s time to stem the unrelenting poaching tide – judge
The “arch villain” in the widespread plunder of perlemoen in the Eastern and Western Cape has been jailed for 20 years.
The sheer volume of the perlemoen poached and scale of related illegal activities sealed the fate of racketeering kingpin Morne Blignault when it came to his sentencing.
In a scathing judgment in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Wednesday, judge Dayalin Chetty said: “The plunder continues unabated and the stage has been reached for appropriate sentences to stem the unrelenting poaching tide.”
Blignault, 47, had initially pleaded not guilty to two charges of racketeering and one charge of contravening the Marine Living Resources Act but, in the face of damning evidence, did an about-turn earlier this month and pleaded guilty to all the charges.
It is not known yet if he is planning to appeal.
Shortly before the sentencing, advocate Warren Myburgh, of the asset forfeiture unit, brought an application for a formal inquiry to establish if Blignault benefited financially through illegal activities to the value of R67m.
This matter will be heard on December 7.
During the sentencing proceedings, Chetty described Blignault as the mastermind behind the multimillion-rand racketeering enterprise which saw tons of perlemoen plundered from Eastern and Western Cape coastlines.
Chetty said although remorse could be considered a mitigating factor to deviate from a lengthy sentence, Blignault’s decision to plead guilty was disingenuous at best.
“The guilty plea unveiled the accused as the enterprise’s mastermind,” he said.
“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 was the altered plea entered.”
Blignault, covering his face, quickly made his way from the dock to the downstairs holding cells after the sentencing.
Family members there to support him also walked out of the courtroom immediately.
Chetty said an extensive exposé in the form of a statement by one of Blignault’s former employees, Brett Killian, 29, proved his management of a perlemoen poaching operation beyond reasonable doubt.
Killian’s detailed description of Blignault’s criminal activities showed a clear pattern of racketeering.
His evidence also established that properties linked to Blignault, including homes in Newton Park, Kruisrivier Road and Bridgemeade, were storage facilities, with a property in the Addo area – the Oliphantskop farm – the processing facility.
Killian described an intricate web of illegal activities orchestrated by Blignault and five others, including Blignault’s ex-wife Marshelle, who had pleaded guilty to a string of offences.
He spelt out how fresh perlemoen would be frozen and taken to the Oliphantskop farm, where it would be sorted into different sizes before being cooked, dried and preserved, and then packed into bags used for potatoes and transported out of Port Elizabeth.
A total of 373,456 units of perlemoen, weighing more than six tons and valued at R5.25m, were seized from the farm.
It had previously been established that legal perlemoen fishing was allowed, but was limited to four tons a year in the Port Elizabeth region and six tons in the Jeffreys Bay area.
Killian, who turned state witness, pleaded guilty in May 2015 and received a one-year sentence, suspended for a year, as well as correctional supervision.
Killian’s co-accused, Huang Zhenyong, 32, and Pan Kekun, 53, who were arrested in a police raid at the Oilphantskop farm in August 2014, each received three-year sentences and were deported to China.
Chetty said it was clear that the two Chinese men had specifically been recruited for Blignault’s enterprise for their skills in processing perlemoen.
He said Blignault’s role in the transnational criminal syndicate linked to China and Hong Kong was integral to the success of the processing farm.
“Given the duration of the activity on the farm, [this] must have yielded handsome financial rewards,” Chetty said.
Blignault’s co-accused – exwife Marshelle, 40, Jacob “Japie” Naumann, 34, Frederick “Frikkie” Nance, 24, Petrus “Pietie” Smith, 31, and Willie Nance, 56, pleaded guilty to a string of charges, including racketeering and illegal trade in perlemoen, on August 22.
They will be sentenced on Thursday.