Cape Town - The trial of 25 members of an alleged perlemoen (abalone) smuggling syndicate was postponed by the Western Cape High Court on Friday.

They will be back in court on February 15, for a second pre-trial conference. Their trial has been set down for April 8.

Judge Robert Henney heard that a warrant of arrest had been issued for Chinese national Ran Wei, the 26th member of the alleged syndicate, and its alleged mastermind, who has been on the run for over a year.

He and the others, mostly men, allegedly operated the poaching syndicate across many provinces for more than 10 years.

Three police officers and a former police officer are among the accused.

They crammed themselves into the dock on Friday morning, and seemed to be in good spirits despite the lack of space.

They face 534 charges, including illegal possession of perlemoen and racketeering.

All but four of them are out on bail.

Three men entered into plea agreements last year. - Sapa