7 suspected rhino poachers in court

Rhino Horn 532x462
For illustration purposes

Masoka Dube

SEVEN suspected rhino poachers are expected to appear in the White River Magistrate Court on Monday.

The syndicate members, Petrus Sydney Mabuza, 53, Joseph Nyalunga, 53, Phineas Lubisi, 56, Clyde Mnisi, 33, Claude Lubisi, 32, Aretha Mhlanga, 39, and Rachel Qwebana, 33, were arrested in September 2017 and they are currently out on bail.

They are implicated in massive trafficking of poached rhino horns and other related crimes.

They are facing charges of theft, conspiracy to commit crime, illegal buying and selling of rhino horns, corruption and money laundering.

The suspects were arrested by the Hawks supported by Counter Intelligence, Special Task Force, SAPS Forensic Science Service, SANParks, the Department of Environmental Affairs, SARS and Customs including the National Prosecuting Authority.

During the arrest, police found and confiscated luxury vehicles, motorbikes, trucks, an undisclosed amount of cash, animal skins, lots of suspected stolen items which include amongst others; trailers, generators and various electronic equipment.

The seized items are estimated to exceed millions of rand in value.

The breakthrough follows an investigative – Project Broadbill – by the Wildlife Trafficking Section of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation which commenced in in 2017 January.

The project focused on the criminal supply chain of poached rhinos within the Kruger National Park, KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, and other private or state-owned reserves.

The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms.

The areas in control of the alleged syndicate include traditional trust areas such as Cork, Belfast, Mkhuhlu, Calcutta and Shabalala trust around the Hazyview and Mbombela magisterial districts within Mpumalanga.

The criminal operations were well planned and allegedly achieved with para-military discipline and counterintelligence actions to prevent any exposure.

The logistical, transport and communication support of the criminal group was also well managed and controlled and allegedly succeeded to move rhino horns from the protected areas to places where the transactions will take place.

The illegal transactions were also protected by alleged corrupt officials to ensure no detection from law enforcement.

The rhino horns would allegedly get sold at the highest price to the markets within Gauteng, where after it gets distributed to the South East Asian markets.