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A fruit and vegetable vendor had been promised 10 percent of R1.5 million if he could find a buyer for a white rhino horn. But instead of bagging the money, Rajen Moodley, 44, is now sitting in jail.
Yesterday Moodley, who was arrested along with Sithembiso Luthuli and Samkelo Sibiya in a police sting on Durban’s beachfront on March 18, pleaded guilty to possession of, selling and trading in the horn - which is said to be “old” and harvested many years ago.
In his written plea before Durban regional court magistrate Fariedha Mohamed, he said he was approached on March 16 by Luthuli and Sibiya, who said they had received the horn from a “third party”.
“I was meeting them for the first time. They said they were from northern KwaZulu-Natal and they did not know Durban. They said the horn was worth R1.5m and, if I could find a buyer, I could have 10 percent.”
Being a green grocer he knew the herbalists at the local markets. He put the word out and left his phone number with some of them.
On March 18 he got a call from a prospective buyer. He called Luthuli and Sibiya and the three went to meet the buyer near the Elangeni Hotel on the beachfront.
He was told that the horn was elsewhere so they got into his car and drove to the nearby Natal Command site. That was where he saw the horn for the first time. It was in a bag on the back seat of a white Audi.
As soon as it was uncovered they were surrounded by police and realised a police trap had been set.
Moodley said when he agreed to find a buyer he was aware that he was committing a crime. He had no defence to the charge against him.
Arguing in mitigation of sentence, defence advocate Jay Naidoo said Moodley’s entire involvement in the incident had lasted only two days.
“The operation was amateurish… and that’s being kind to the parties involved,” he submitted.
“It is clear he was lured by the proverbial quick buck. He played a relatively minor role and he was in no way responsible for harvesting the horn - which occurred many years ago - or for any poaching.”
Naidoo said that, because of the public outcry over rhino poaching, there was a demand that Moodley be punished, but he was deserving of some mercy.
“While the penalty is five years for someone who deals in a protected species, there is no indication that he has any prior involvement in this [poaching] industry. He was just drawn in through greed.”
Prosecutor advocate Yuri Gangai agreed that Moodley did not need to “pay the price for every [rhino poaching] case”, but said the crime deserved imprisonment and courts had to send out the right message.
Magistrate Mohamed agreed that Moodley - who has already spent nearly five months in jail after he was refused bail - needed to spend more time behind bars. She sentenced him to three years imprisonment in terms of correctional supervision legislation which dictates that he serve one sixth (in this case six months) of his sentence and, should he qualify, serve the balance under house arrest.
Luthuli will appear in court again on August 17.
The State was expected to withdraw charges against Sibiya, who was not at court yesterday because of illness.
It is believed that investigations into the source of the horn are continuing. - The Mercury