Illegal rhino horn suspects freed

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IOL news nov 19  rhino

Reuters

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Cape Town - Two Vietnamese men, arrested in 2010 for the biggest single haul of illegal rhino horns in the Western Cape, had their case struck from the roll this week after the government was unable to supply court interpreters.

The accused, Xuan Binh Dang, 25, and Huong Giang Chu, 32, were released from Pollsmoor Prison on Monday after being in custody for 30 months.

The men have made several court appearances since their arrest in November 2010 at a routine police roadblock outside Beaufort West. The pair had been travelling on a bus bound for Cape Town. When police searched their luggage they allegedly found 12 full rhino horns – one so big it had to be cut in half to fit in the suitcase.

On Monday Victor Knoop of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, which is in charge of court interpreters, told the Khayelitsha Regional Court that the department had encountered problems in securing two Vietnamese interpreters. The one was not registered on the department’s supplier base, which meant he could not be paid, while the other’s tax certificate was not in order, which meant he could not be registered on the supply data base.

In addition, the computers had been offline since April 1, which meant they could not issue any purchasing orders.

The court struck the matter from the roll and the men were released after two-and-a-half years of awaiting trial in jail. They had not yet been asked to plead.

Asked to comment, Paul Gildenhuys, who heads CapeNature’s biodiversity crime unit, said: “In the light of the current rhino poaching rate, it is very disappointing that this case was withdrawn… The court made it very clear that it was a problem of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and not a problem of the National Prosecuting Authority.

“This was the biggest case of illegal rhino horn in the province when they were arrested, and remains the biggest case so far,” Gildenhuys said.

Had the men been convicted, they could have faced a R100 000 fine or 10 years in jail, or both, and another fine of up to three times the commercial value of the horns, which amounts to R7.8 million.

Gildenhuys said rhino poaching syndicates used the Western Cape roads, transport, airports and harbours to move the horns out of the country. The main market was Asia.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was asked to comment but the Cape Times had not received a reply at the time of going to press.

Since the beginning of the year, 21 rhino have been killed in North West, 19 in KwaZulu-Natal, 19 in Limpopo and 13 in Mpumalanga.

The department said 41 alleged poachers had been arrested in the Kruger National Park since January. In the past week, three were arrested in Kruger after killing a black rhino. One died in hospital after being wounded in a shoot-out with rangers. The horns and a .458 hunting rifle with a silencer, ammunition and poaching related equipment were confiscated. - Cape Times


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