Syn­di­cate set to lose mil­lions

Al­leged mem­bers of per­lemoen poach­ing group hit with re­straint or­der

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - FA­TIMA SCHROEDER

IN­VES­TI­GA­TIONS into what is be­lieved to be South Africa’s largest abalone poach­ing syn­di­cate show that its mem­bers al­legedly har­vested abalone worth more than R2 bil­lion, and pock­eted more than R50 mil­lion, which was used to fund their life­styles and buy cars and prop­erty.

Now, 17 mem­bers of the al­leged syn­di­cate, in­clud­ing Gans­baai fish­er­man Frank Barends, who al­legedly man­aged it, are at risk of los­ing ev­ery as­set they have bought over the past 15 years, along with the con­tents of their bank ac­counts af­ter the As­set For­fei­ture Unit ( AFU) this week ob­tained a re­straint or­der in the Western Cape High Court.

In terms of the or­der, their bank ac­counts have been frozen and their as­sets placed un­der the con­trol of a cu­ra­tor. They have to dis­close to the cu­ra­tor all re­al­is­able prop­erty, in­clud­ing gifts.

Chi­nese na­tional Ran Wei, who is be­lieved to be a main fig­ure in the syn­di­cate, was not a party to the re­straint pro­ceed­ings be­cause he has been at large for seven years.

How­ever, in court pa­pers it is al­leged that Barends alone ben­e­fited to the tune of R14m.

Bel­lville at­tor­ney An­thony Broad­way, who al­legedly helped Barends with his fi­nan­cial af­fairs, and who rep­re­sented sev­eral syn­di­cate mem­bers since 2001, was also a de­fen­dant in the re­straint pro­ceed­ings. His as­sets, listed on an an­nex­ure to the or­der, in­clude prop­er­ties in Ken­ridge and Bel­lville, a Mercedes-Benz, a Hyundai i20, a trailer, two mo­tor­cy­cles and the con­tents of nine bank ac­counts in his name. His wife, He­lena, who lives in Kent in the UK, has been cited as a re­spon­dent, as was close corpo- ra­tion Royal Al­ba­tross In­vest­ments, in which Barends and two of his co- ac­cused hold mem­bers’ in­ter­ests.

The 17 mem­bers, to­gether with oth­ers, have been charged with sev­eral con­tra­ven­tions of the Ma­rine Liv­ing Re­sources Act and the Preven­tion of Or­gan­ised Crime Act, in­clud­ing money laun­der­ing and rack­e­teer­ing. Some have also been charged with cor­rup­tion for al­legedly brib­ing po­lice to fa­cil­i­tate their ac­tiv­i­ties.

The as­sets of po­lice of­fi­cers Frank Maritz and Boltwun Boezak, who are ac­cused of en­sur­ing that the road was free of law en­force­ment of­fi­cials when mem­bers of the al­leged syn­di­cate trans­ported abalone through Beaufort West, were also sub­ject to the or­der.

In the crim­i­nal case, some ac­cused have also been charged with fraud for al­leged un­der­dec­la­ra­tions made to Sars.

In an af­fi­davit, in­ves­ti­ga­tor Deon de Jager said the charges re­lated to un­law­ful har­vest­ing, pro­cess­ing and trans­port­ing abalone around the Western Cape and, on some oc­ca­sions, other prov­inces.

He painted a pic­ture of the al­leged syn­di­cate’s op­er­a­tions, say­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed they op­er­ated in an or­gan­ised fash­ion, “as a crimi- nal syn­di­cate op­er­at­ing an un­law­ful en­ter­prise”.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion es­tab­lished that the en­ter­prise has op­er­ated since at least 1998. It has been ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to put a value to the ben­e­fit de­rived by the de­fen­dants charged in this mat­ter. The ev­i­dence, how­ever, will show that huge amounts of cash flowed from the en­ter­prise, and it is be­lieved that the value of the ben­e­fit ac­crued to the de­fen­dants, ac­cused per­sons and the re­spon­dents in to­tal far ex­ceeds R50m,” De Jager said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, Ran, Barends, Chris­ti­aan Crous and Dono­van Dick­son man­aged the en­ter­prise, while the rest were or­di­nary mem­bers:

● “Ran sup­plied large amounts of money used to pay the var­i­ous poach­ing or div­ing groups, and to rent or pur­chase im­mov­able prop­er­ties that were used for the pro­cess­ing and dry­ing of the abalone. (Barends) was Ran’s main sup­plier of abalone. Un­for­tu­nately... it is not pos­si­ble to join Ran in th­ese pro­ceed­ings as there are no prospects of him even­tu­ally be­ing found and pros­e­cuted. He may, how­ever, be joined later if he is lo­cated be­fore the trial com­mences,” De Jager said.

● Barends was the main buyer of poached abalone from divers which was sold to Ran.

● Crous ob­tained driv­ers and ve­hi­cles, mainly at auc­tions, which were reg­is­tered in the names of peo­ple not di­rectly linked to the en­ter­prise. He was also re­spon­si­ble for rent­ing two farms in North West for the stor­age and dry­ing of abalone.

● Dick­son was re­spon­si­ble for trans­port­ing abalone, and was also en­trusted with the trans­porta­tion of sub­stan­tial sums of money used to pay for abalone de­liv­ered to the al­leged en­ter­prise.

The oth­ers acted as spot­ters, pack­ers, driv­ers, col­lec­tors of money, divers and poach­ers, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to De Jager, money was laun­dered through bank ac­counts in Barends’s name, as well as bank ac­counts linked to Royal Al­ba­tross. In ad­di­tion, it is al­leged that Broad­way used his firm’s bank ac­count as a con­duit to laun­der the pro­ceeds of un­law­ful ac­tiv­i­ties.

In a sep­a­rate af­fi­davit, Deputy Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Prose­cu­tions Gcobani Bam said it was clear from De Jager’s ev­i­dence that the en­ter­prise op­er­ated for com­mer­cial pur­poses.

He added that the de­fen­dants’ ex­pen­di­ture and the prop­erty they bought were paid for with the pro­ceeds of their al­leged un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to Bam, the or­der was sought in or­der to re­strain the syn­di­cate’s as­sets to sat­isfy a fu­ture con­fis­ca­tion or­der in the event they were con­victed.

Judge An­dre le Grange granted the re­straint or­der and their as­sets have now been placed un­der the con­trol of cu­ra­tor An­dre van Heer­den.

The al­leged syn­di­cate mem­bers will ap­pear in the High Court for a pre-trial con­fer­ence on Novem­ber 22.

FOR­FEITED: This house, be­long­ing to Bel­lville at­tor­ney An­thony Broad­way (inset, left), is one of a string of prop­er­ties, cars and bank ac­counts that form the sub­ject of a re­straint or­der ob­tained by the As­set For­fei­ture Unit this week. The or­der formed part of the unit’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an al­leged abalone poach­ing syn­di­cate, al­legedly man­aged by Frank Barends (inset, right).

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