CAPE TOWN, South Africa—The Western Cape High Court has sentenced an Abalone poacher to 244 years imprisonment in a case involving him paying fisheries officials to regain confiscated stock.
A Caledon father of five, Solomon Sauls, 45 entered into a plea and sentencing agreement with the state last Friday, where he admitted to having poached abalone and bribed officials from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (DAFF).
Late on Monday, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said Sauls faced 42 charges and was subsequently convicted for participating in an enterprise, 16 counts of corruption, two counts of money laundering, 12 counts of contravention of S44(2) of the Marine Living Resources Act and 10 counts of contravening the Marine Living Resources Act of Reg 36(1) (b).
Sauls was serving a seven-year sentence from September 2020 for being responsible for the delivery and logistics of illegally sourced abalone that was exported.
Before then he was serving 14 years imprisonment for his involvement in another syndicate that operated from 2001 until the arrest of its members in 2008.
He also had corrupt dealings with nine officials from the DAFF. The officials were arrested and are facing corruption and abalone-poaching charges before the court.
“He would also stop the officials from confiscating the abalone, telling them that the divers were his. Arrangements would be made for the return of the illegally harvested abalone and he would pay the officials tens of thousands of rands. The officials would then divide the money among themselves,” Ntabazalila said.
Advocate Aradhana Heeramun said the NPA was pleased with the sentence, which will act as a stern warning to wishful offenders.
“This type of offence is of a very serious nature as it involves corrupting government officials into not doing their official duties to protect natural resources. He paid Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials not to arrest and seize abalone of his diving teams.
’’His actions weakened law enforcement efforts to protect abalone, which is mostly for commercial purposes and exportation. His actions were driven by greed,” Heeramun said.
Abalone is shellfish found in kelp forests in ocean waters along most continents and around the southern coast of South Africa.
South Africa protects the illegal harvesting which is known to provide an off-book income for many divers and the people who dry it and transport it.
Dubbed “white gold” after the pearly under the flesh of the snails, they’re savoured in restaurants in China and elsewhere in Asia.
Abalone demand has soared, fuelling a multibillion-dollar global export industry and a booming illegal trade from South Africa.
Of the 56 global species, five are found in South Africa, and one of these, Haliotis midae, is regarded as among the tastiest.