He is accused of illegal toothfish trade and obstruction of justice in the United States.
His lawyer is asking to be relieved from representing Vidal’s Uruguayan company due to a conflict of interest.
Galician shipping magnate Antonio Vidal will have to face US justice on October 30th in Miami, accused of illegally importing toothfish (also known as deep-sea cod) and obstruction of justice. The district attorney is accusing the shipowner and his Uruguayan company Fadilur of having attempted to use an invalid import licence whose number had previously been used. A second accusation is based on the alleged doctoring of an official document describing the merchandise, identifying the place where the fish was caught and its weight.
The district attorney claims that Antonio Vidal and Fadilur falsified the licenses and other official documents to make the US government believe that the toothfish they were trying to import via Miami had been caught legally. They are accused of conspiring to import and sell illegally-caught toothfish in the United States. Vidal, who turned himself in to the authorities in Miami International Airport almost three months ago after learning he was being sought by Interpol, says he is innocent of these charges.
This is the first time that US justice has set in motion a process of this magnitude against the owner of a fishing fleet. It seems the decision has arisen from the US government’s determination to deal a harsh blow to pirate fishing and the import of illegally caught fish in the US.
If Antonio Vidal is found guilty, he could be sentenced to between four and five years in prison. In addition, fish worth more than 300,000 US dollars could be impounded and a fine of one million dollars could be imposed on him as an individual, and two million dollars on his Uruguayan company, Fadilur. Vidal’s lawyer, Milton Hirsch, however, is confident he will be able to demonstrate the Ribeira shipowner’s complete innocence.
This same lawyer, Milton Hirsch, has asked to be relieved from defending Fadilur due to a conflict of interest, as he holds shares in the company owned by Vidal.
Oceana points out that Antonio Vidal is well known for his controversial fishing activities. One of his vessels, the Viarsa, was the target of the longest maritime chase in history in 2003, being pursued from the Australian Antarctic to close to Uruguay by an Australian patrol vessel on suspicion of having illegally caught deep-sea cod. The chase was so spectacular that it resulted in a book: “Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish” by Wall Street Journal journalist Bruce Knecht.
More recently, another of Vidal’s boats, the Galaecia, which has received subsidies from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to the tune of 1,300,000 euros for an experimental fishing campaign, has been under inquiry since 2005 by the Secretary General of Maritime Fishing for the alleged transfer of supplies on the high seas to a another vessel owned by one of his companies. This other vessel appears on the list of pirate vessels issued by CCAMLR, the international convention that regulates fishing in Antarctic waters. This kind of transfer is banned, and if corroborated it could lead to serious sanctions being taken against Vidal’s vessel.