An intensive multi-agency campaign today led to the confiscation of some seven of tons of frozen and dried abalone with an estimated street value of R11 million.
The significance of this intervention is the fact that for the first time - through the co-operative efforts of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism's Marine Coastal Management (MCM) division - domestic law enforcement agencies were successful in rerouting two containers of smuggled abalone back to South Africa; even after it left the country's shores.
In this regard the Malaysian authorities should be commended for their support to South Africa to ensure the diversion of the goods back to this country. This should signal to those involved in organized crime that goods smuggled out of the country can be repatriated to serve as a basis for further investigation and possible prosecution.
The containers with the abalone left the country about three weeks ago on a cargo ship after being declared to SARS Customs as frozen sardines. At this point it is believed that the containers were destined for Hong Kong.
Investigations to date clearly indicate that there exist strong links between abalone poaching, illicit trade networks, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and racketeering. Syndicates are known to exploit vulnerable coastal communities where residents serve as poachers for abalone destined for a growing international market.
The illicit abalone industry presents a convergence of economical, environmental, social and political risks to South Africa. Abalone is often used as barter in exchange for drugs or other proceeds of crime and forms part of a larger criminal economy.
Abalone is listed under the Prohibited and Restricted Goods List administered in terms of section 113 of the Customs and Excise Act (91 of 1964), and thus permits are required for exporting abalone.
This species may be legally sold by registered commercial fishers and retailers. An operating license from MCM needs to be obtained for this purpose.
The three South African law enforcement agencies involved in this operation trust that today's success will dis-incentivise non-compliance with the law.
ISSUED BY THE COMMISSIONER FOR THE SOUTH AFRICAN REVENUE SERVICE