One of the main challenges I face in AML training – which I have been doing since Abraham was a lad, it seems – is making people care about it. I am quite immune to the groans and slumps that greet the prospect of AML training, as I know that if I can find the examples and stories that hit home, it will all make sense. I will admit that I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to money laundering stories: I collect them obsessively, the more bizarre the better, and store them away for future use. And so I was thrilled when Roy in Jersey sent me a link to a local story involving a crime of which I had not even dreamt, and the proceeds thereof.
Now be honest: have you ever heard of a lobster baron? No, it’s not a particularly large crustacean, but a man who makes a substantial living from selling lobsters – and in this case, illegally fished lobsters from the seas off South Africa. In 2004 Arnold Bengis was found guilty in the US of using his company Hout Bay Fishing Industries to criminally overfish tens of thousands of West Coast rock lobster – a species protected by quota – and smuggle them to the US in the 1980s and 1990s, selling them to fancy restaurants. He made millions, that he hid in Jersey companies. Bengis served 46 months in prison in the US and was ordered to pay US$5 million. Compensation hearings commenced under the Lacey Act (which prohibits the trade of illegally-obtained wildlife, fish and plants), and in 2013 Bengis and his co-conspirators were ordered to repay US$22.5 million to South Africa – which is still feeling the effects of the overfishing. But by 2017 Bengis had handed over only $1 million and left the rest in three Jersey companies. In July 2017, he was re-sentenced to 57 months’ imprisonment and served a forfeiture order of $37,200,838. By this time Bengis was living in Israel; an arrest warrant was issued, and Jersey’s Royal Court took control of his companies via a “saisie judiciaire” to ensure that their funds weren’t exhausted before any money was paid back. In March 2018 a Liechtenstein company connected with Bengis tried to cancel the saisie, but the request was denied – and this is where we find ourselves today. The lobster baron cannot get his claws on the money until he comes out of his shell and hands himself in.