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A fruit and vegetable seller, a fitter, and a driving school instructor arrested while allegedly trying to sell a rhino horn to a police agent, are members of a syndicate trading in protected game in KwaZulu-Natal, according to evidence led in opposing the trio’s bail application.
The Durban Magistrate’s Court also heard on Thursday that poaching had been affecting the sale of rhinos at auctions, knocking R1.5 billion off the value of the national white rhino herd.
Judgment has been reserved.
Rajen Moodley, of Phoenix, Sthembiso Luthuli, of Rich-ards Bay, and Samkeliso Sibiya, of Mandeni, were arrested after trying to sell a 6.5kg, metre-long horn for R1.5 million, the court heard.
The horn has been valued at more than R3m.
The trio face charges of dealing in and being in possession of a rhino horn.
Detective Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux, in an affidavit, said the men were part of a group involved in dealing in specially protected game, particularly white rhino, in KwaZulu-Natal.
“That the accused have been arrested will not stop the other syndicate members from (pursuing) their criminal activities,” said Van Zyl-Roux. “If the accused were to be released, they would rejoin their colleagues and resume (their) serious criminal activities.”
The trio were arrested by police on March 18 in a sting at Durban’s Battery Beach.
Van Zyl-Roux said the men knew the identities and addresses of the State’s witnesses and could trace, intimidate or harm them.
One of the State witnesses had received anonymous, threatening cellphone calls, the court heard.
“Rhino killing is on the increase in South Africa. The fact that criminals use violence to commit these crimes has the population living in fear of informing on these criminals,” Van Zyl-Roux said in his affidavit, which was read to the court by prosecutor Krishen Shah.
“Too often poachers fire on game guards or threaten to kill them. (They) have no respect for the lives of the innocent.”
The incidence of rhino crimes had so increased that “we are fast approaching the state where extinction of all rhino in the world is a distinct possibility”.
The affidavit referred to the financial effect poaching had on the game industry, requiring the employment of guards and extra security measures.
Van Zyl-Roux said poaching had made owning rhino so unattractive that none of the white and black rhino up for auction in August 2010 had been sold.
“With an estimated 20 000- odd white rhino in South Africa, this decline in average sale value reflects a drop in asset value of the country’s white rhino of R1.5bn,” he said.
Van Zyl-Roux said no permits were issued for the possession or sale of the horn.
“This can only mean the accused knew that the possession and sale of the horn were illegal.”
Shah also read out letters from a number of anti-poaching organisations written to the chief magistrate appealing for bail to be denied.
Also submitted were petitions opposing bail, from online anti-poaching associations.
Shah said the men had met a police agent at a beachfront hotel and negotiated a price for the sale of the horn.
The agent, he said, had asked to see the horn. The men took the agent to their vehicle opposite the old Natal Command site. The horn was on the back seat of the vehicle.
The court heard that Moodley, 44, lived in Redfern, Phoenix, and had a roadside stall in Westside in the suburb.
His attorney, Rajendra Nathalal, asked the court not to be swayed by organisations opposed to the men’s being released on bail.
He said the State was not presenting factual evidence.
“Apart from the fact that all three men were arrested together, there is no other evidence to suggest they form part of a syndicate,” he said.
He said Moodley, who had previous convictions for drunk driving and culpable homicide, could afford R20 000 for bail.
Luthuli, 34, is the breadwinner for his two children and fiancée. He has worked for Transnet as an electrical fitter for the past seven years.
Sibiya, 47, who supports four children and a fiancée, owns a driving school.
He and Luthuli said they could afford R10 000 in bail.
All three men said they intended pleading not guilty. They assured the court they were not a flight risk and did not have relatives across the border.
Magistrate Anita Govender has reserved judgment until May 22.