The case against 12 suspects believed to be the kingpins of a rhino poaching syndicate was postponed in the Roodepoort Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said three of the suspects, who were also police officers, were granted R500 bail each while another one of the suspects was given R3 000 bail. The rest were remanded in police custody.
Mulaudzi added the four suspects who were out on bail would re-appear in court on January 26, 2016, while the suspects in custody would re-appear on December 1. The suspects were not asked to plead.
The suspects were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in Gauteng and North West during a joint operation (Operation Ringleader) dealing with rhino poaching.
Mulaudzi added police were searching for other suspects.
Meanwhile, the Pretoria High Court lifted the ban on domestic trade in rhino horn yesterday.
The court set aside government’s 2009 ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, with those supporting the move arguing it was the only way to prevent the otherwise inevitable extinction of the animals.
Judge Francis Legodi read out his court order in less than five minutes before handing down his 37-page judgment in the application by Malelane game farmer John Hume and Limpopo farmer Johan Kruger. Although government is expected to appeal the ruling, Hume said he hoped “sanity would prevail”.
The court was told that rhino horn was selling for as much as $65 000 (R923 000) per kilogram.
Mulaudzi said Operation Ringleader had been going on for a year and a half.
“During the operation, the officials found and confiscated 13 illegal firearms (eight rifles and five pistols), three small scales, one electrical hacksaw, four rhino horns, chopped rhino horns, R1.1 million in cash and eight luxury vehicles. The (value of the) seized items including the money is estimated at R6 million,” added Mulaudzi.
The charges against the suspects include money laundering and racketeering.
Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa welcomed the arrest of the 12 rhino poaching suspects this week.
“The arrest is indicative of government’s commitment to fight the ongoing scourge of rhino poaching in South Africa. Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma visited the Kruger National Park, which is the epicentre of the poaching epidemic. President Zuma opened the Mission Area Joint Operations Centre – the latest weapon in our arsenal to combat this crime,” added Molewa.
“Government acknowledges that environmental crime, and poaching in particular, does more than threaten South Africa’s natural resources. It also results in a financial burden and loss of economic and development opportunities in our country.
“In 2014 rhino poaching was declared a national priority crime in South Africa and has resulted in a multidisciplinary, multisectoral approach focused on collaboration through our National Security Structure,” said Molewa.
Read More: 11 nabbed after R1.2m in rhino horns seized
– Caxton News Service