South Africa 30.1.2018 06:12 am

Rhino syndicate’s trial put off again

Trial may last a year but seven years after their arrests, no date has yet been set.

More than seven years after the arrest of the so-called Groenewald Gang, accused of running one of South Africa’s largest rhino poaching and trafficking syndicates, a trial date is yet to be set.

The case against Polokwane game farmer Dawie Groenewald and seven co-accused was yesterday again provisionally postponed in the High Court in Pretoria – this time to March 29 – with no trial date in sight.

All charges were officially withdrawn against Groenewald’s wife, Sariette.

Prosecutor Joanie Spies told the court several charges had been withdrawn against the other accused following a ruling in the Constitutional Court lifting the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn.

A new indictment was served on them last month.

She said representations to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions by one of the accused, veterinarian Manie du Plessis, were partially successful, but he remained an accused and plea negotiations were continuing, although at a very slow pace.

Du Plessis’ counsel initially indicated he wanted to wait until a new national director of public prosecutions had replaced Shaun Abrahams in terms of a recent court order to make new representations, but withdrew when told this could delay the start of the trial by years.

The bail of one of the accused, Nardus Rossouw, was withdrawn because he allegedly committed more crimes while he was out.

His legal counsel objected to any further delays.

One of the accused, farm worker Paul Matomela, has died. Advocate Jaap Cilliers, who acts for Groenewald and the majority of his co-accused, said the trial needed to be postponed for the appointment of a special judge to hear legal argument on several preliminary matters, such as the provision of additional particulars on the charges.

He said about 1 600 charges remained, the trial could take up to a year and a special court would have to be allocated for the hearing.

Cilliers said his clients did not intend applying for all charges to be withdrawn at this stage, but would oppose further delays which might inevitably result in the charges having to be dropped.

Bail was extended for all of the accused, except Rossouw.

The accused were arrested in 2010.

They face charges ranging from racketeering and money laundering to illegally hunting rhino, dealing in rhino horn and contravening the Biodiversity and Prevention of Organised Crime Acts.

– ilse@citizen.co.za

SA’s official rhino poaching figures questioned

For more news your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.