The ongoing legal battle about government’s moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn has resulted in a second alleged rhino poaching syndicate trial being delayed in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria this week.
Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi yesterday provisionally postponed the trial of Polokwane game farmer Dawie Groenewald, his wife, Sariette, and eight co-accused to June 15 next year.
This was to await the final outcome of a civil battle about the validity of the 2009 moratorium.
Groenewald was allegedly the mastermind of one of South Africa’s largest rhino poaching syndicates. In 2015, a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court set aside the moratorium, which meant domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa became legal, although the international ban on such trade remained in place. The court ruled that government had failed to meet even the minimum requirements of a public consultative and participatory process. It said the level of rhino poaching since the moratorium was “quite alarming” and there was no evidence that it helped to stop international smuggling.
Both the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal subsequently turned down Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s application for leave to appeal against the ruling and the minister has now turned to the Constitutional Court in a bid to appeal.
Jaap Cilliers SC, who represents Groenewald, told the court the moratorium formed an integral part of the charge sheet and it was an absolute necessity for the criminal trial to get clarity on the issue.
Groenewald and his co-accused, who include two veterinary surgeons and a pilot, face more than 1 800 charges, including racketeering, money laundering, illegally hunting rhino, dealing in rhino horn and contravening the Biodiversity and Prevention of Organised Crime Acts.
Members of the alleged syndicate were arrested in 2010 after a 15-month investigation called Project Cruiser, which allegedly linked them to hundreds of illegal rhino poaching incidents over four years.
Groenewald was detained in the US in 2010 and eventually fined $30 000 for, among others, selling an illegal leopard hunt to an American sports hunter.
The trial of another alleged rhino poaching syndicate, led by professional hunter and game farmer Hugo Ras, was earlier this week postponed until February next year. This was also to await the outcome of a Constitutional Court challenge to provincial regulations underpinning the charges against him and nine co-accused.