A United States grand federal jury in Miami indicted Spanish national Antonio Vidal Pego and the Uruguayan corporation Fadilur S.A. for conspiring to sell illegally possessed toothfish.
This is the first case in the United States bringing criminal charges for activities involving illegal importation and sale of toothfish.
The two defendants were also charged with false labelling and obstructing justice.
According to a release from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida R. Alexander Acosta, the September 27 indictment states that in May 2004 Antonio Vidal Pego and Fadilur S.A. knowingly attempted to import approximately 53.000 tons of toothfish from Singapore to Miami for sale in United States well aware that the fish was taken and transported in violation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention and provisions of US law to implement the conservation measures adopted by Treaty parties.
The indictment further charges that the defendants made and submitted a false record and account for fish intended to be imported to the US from Singapore.
Finally in July 2004 the defendants knowingly altered, falsified and made a false entry in a Survey report purporting to reflect a toothfish cargo off-loaded in Singapore from the FN Carran with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation and proper administration of a matter within the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.
The grand jury also approved a criminal forfeiture count, seeking to forfeit the 53.000 plus pounds of toothfish or 314.397,30 US dollars representing the proceeds of the sale of the fish.
Antonio Vidal Pego faces a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison for the charge of obstruction of justice and up to five years in prison on each of the three remaining charges. He is also subject to a fine of 250.000 US dollars on each of the four counts of the indictment or twice the gain derived from the criminal conduct.
Fadilur S.A. faces a maximum criminal fine on each of the four counts naming the company, of up to 500.000 US dollars per charge or twice the gain derived from the criminal conduct.
The release describes the two types of toothfish, Patagonian and Antarctic or Chilean seabass, their environment, life cycle, fragility and underlines the "international conservation efforts in the face of the increased pressure from both legal and "pirate" fishing".
The harvest of Chilean seabass is regulated under CAMLR convention and the US Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act which set forth in detail the indictment, requires specific documentation to follow legally harvested toothfish from the point of harvest to the point of final import for consumption.
US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Service.
The case is being prosecuted by the US Attorney Office, Southern District of Florida and the Environmental Crimes Section of the US Department of Justice.