Perlemoen poacher’s tale of woe
Punish me, not my son, crying Blignault pleads
The demise of a multimillionrand empire that included nightclubs, flashy vehicles, businesses and properties across the country reduced perlemoen kingpin Morne Blignault to tears on Tuesday as he begged a judge to punish him instead for his son’s involvement in the enterprise.
With nothing further to lose and facing the prospect of yet another lengthy sentence, Blignault took the stand in the Port Elizabeth High Court and laid bare a childhood of abuse and neglect, describing how as a young boy he was often forced to sleep at train stations and steal food to survive.
Motivated by his unpleasant childhood, Blignault, 47, said he had made it his mission to build a profitable life so that he could provide financially for his own family one day.
He said he had never wanted his children to go to bed hungry as he had been forced to many times as a young boy.
Instead, he had spoilt them from a young age, most notably the Kragga Kamma plot he had registered in the name of his eldest son, Morne jnr, when he was just 19.
Extensive renovations had been done to the house, which was now valued at more than R3m. He had then bought his children a house in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg, when they battled to find jobs in the Eastern Cape.
Several vehicles were also registered in the names of his children and ex-wife.
But how Blignault was able to afford the extravagant gifts and life of luxury prompted state advocate Martin le Roux to point out that Morne jnr was now seated in the dock beside his father and that Blignault’s ex-wife and mother of his three children, Marshelle, had already started serving a 12-year jail term for her role in the illegal business.
Crying as he faced judge Glenn Goosen, Blignault pleaded: “I’m sorry for what I’ve done.
“My child has nothing to do with it, he can’t get a jail sentence. Rather sentence me, not him.”
Blignault, Japie Naumann, 35, Morne jnr, 27, Jan “Danie” Prinsloo, 31, and Paul Bezuidenhout, 22, all pleaded guilty to racketeering and contravening the Marine Living Resources Act.
From fishing, transporting, cooking, packaging and then exporting the perlemoen, the state believes each accused played a specific role in the operation, which generated a profit of millions of rands.
Prinsloo has since absconded and the trial was ordered to continue in his absence.
Blignault is already serving a 20-year sentence at St Albans Prison after he was found guilty in a similar case in September.
He subsequently lost his panel-beating business, his car, motorbike and the R700,000 bail money he had paid on behalf of himself and his co-accused.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit had gone after any remaining assets.
But Blignault said his biggest loss was when his second wife miscarried the twins they had been expecting shortly after his arrest.
While he was in custody, they had decided to do in-vitro fertilisation and their daughter, now 10 months old, was born as a result.
“I did not think I would sit in custody for so long.
“My lawyer at the time, Alwyn Griebenow, told me that I would be out by December , that there wasn’t much evidence against me.
“But as a result, I was not at my daughter’s birth and I have only seen her [a few] times here at court.”
Led by Legal Aid advocate Elsabet Theron, Blignault – who was one of five children – said his mother had battled to take care of them and they had spent a lot of their childhood in and out of foster care.
They never knew who their biological father was.
“We had to sell newspapers and steal to feed ourselves.
“We did so on my mom’s instruction,” Blignault said through tears.
“There was never a father figure in my life but my mom had many boyfriends.
“It was an extremely abusive environment.”
He said they had moved repeatedly between Johannes burg and Port Elizabeth.
“Sometimes we slept at the train station because my mother was constantly running away from our stepfather, who abused her and us.”
Blignault left school in grade 10 to pack shelves at OK Grocer and married Marshelle when he was 19.
They had three biological children and then adopted another son.
He found employment at an engineering firm as a tool setter, then at Firestone and later at General Tyres. He lost his job there and used his pension payout to start a pawn shop.
Blignault said he had made enough money to buy the club at the Red Lion Hotel in Govan Mbeki Avenue, which he sold later before buying a second club and then a furniture store, followed by Club Shakes in North End.
“[For a while] Club Shakes did so well, with 2,500 people a night, so we bought the body shop next door.”
When business at the club died down, he had decided to become involved in the illegal perlemoen trade.
“Business began failing and I was approached by Chinese nationals in Johannesburg to find premises [for perlemoen processing] and they would pay me.”
Blignault said he sold his Audi and luxury Kawasaki H2 motorbike to raise about R700,000 in bail money for himself and his co-accused.
He said the bail receipts were in Griebenow’s name and he had not received a cent of the money back despite their convictions. Le Roux said the source of the bail money was likely the proceeds of crime.
Asked by Le Roux why he had involved his son in the perlemoen business, Blignault said he had only asked him to drive a vehicle to Johannesburg to collect money that was owed to him.
A stop-and-search outside Paterson in April 2017 uncovered 6,013 units of perlemoen, which was then linked to Blignault’s multimillion-rand enterprise.
Blignault said Morne jnr had driven the pilot vehicle – in front of the convoy – and probably was not even aware that there was perlemoen inside the truck that followed.
He also said that he had opened two soup kitchens at schools in Uitenhage and Algoa Park, and had paid for the parents of two sick children to fly to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town and, later, for the funerals when the children died.
Closing arguments ahead of sentence will be heard on Wednesday...