Poaching queen’s appeal against sentence dismissed

Marshelle Blignault.
Marshelle Blignault.
Image: Devon Koen

Perlemoen poaching queen Marshelle Blignault will have to serve her 12-year prison sentence after a full bench of the high court in Makhanda dismissed her appeal on Tuesday.

Blignault was last year portrayed by her lawyer, advocate Terry Price SC, as the victim of her bullying and abusive convicted poacher ex-husband Morne Blignault, and he argued that her harsh prison sentence should be reduced to time served.

Blignault has served about a year of the 12-year sentence doled out in March by the Port Elizabeth High Court for her role in managing the massive abalone poaching criminal enterprise created by her former husband.

Judge Glenn Goosen, with judge Fatima Dawood and acting judge Lisa Ntsepe agreeing, found the court had not erred and the harsh sentence was entirely justified.

Goosen said the six tons of perlemoen worth more than R5m seized at the time of her arrest exceeded the annual quota for legal harvesting in the entire Jeffreys Bay area.

At the time, it was estimated the haul was as a result of just a few weeks’ work.

“The operation of criminal enterprises such as this through a pattern of racketeering activity undermines the fabric of a legitimate economy.

“Not only is the society deprived of a source of revenue but, given the nature of the resource it exploits, the sustainability of social and economic development is placed at risk.”

The interplay between organised crime and the wanton destruction of natural resources called for particularly severe sentences, he said.

Goosen dismissed Price’s argument that the sentencing court had underplayed the mitigating circumstances in Blignault’s case — including that she was a victim of domestic abuse by her bullying ex-husband — and, as a result, applied a cruel, inhumane and degrading sentence.

He said it was clear the court had balanced her personal circumstances against the interests of society.

These included that she had benefited for 17 years from both her own and her husband’s involvement in criminal activities and had admitted to living a lavish lifestyle.

Goosen also rejected Price’s contention that she had been nothing more than a “pay clerk” in the perlemoen racketing scheme run by her husband.

“While it is not to be doubted that her former husband ... was the principal driving force behind the enterprise ... [she] performed a vital role in the ongoing management of the enterprise without which it could not achieve its purpose.”

He said there was no basis to interfere with the trial court’s sentence.

The appeal was dismissed.