Rhino horn smuggler seeking ‘ubuntu’

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rhino horn kingpin INLSA Chumlong Lemtongthai (closest to camera) who pled guilty to organising bogus trophy hunts to sell rhino horns on the black market was sentenced to 40 years. File photo: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - The man who pleaded guilty to smuggling rhino horn out of the country has asked the magistrate to keep in mind the spirit of ubuntu while deciding on his sentence.

Terry Price, who was representing Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai, said on Wednesday in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court that the sentence given to his client should “not devastate him”, but should be given in a way that “caters for forgiveness”.

On Monday, Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to smuggling rhino horn. He has admitted using Thai prostitutes to pose as bogus big game hunters and to forging permits. Charges against his six co-accused were withdrawn.

On Wednesday, Price, arguing in mitigation of sentence, said Lemtongthai was having a hard time adjusting to conditions in prison.

“Imagine how puzzled he is; he doesn’t know what is going on here. He can’t speak any of our languages, the food he eats he is not used to, and it results in visits to the sanatorium. He is a human being like anyone else. We all have skeletons in cupboards.”

In response, State advocate Allen Simpson called Lemtongthai arrogant in the crimes he had carried out.

“He wasn’t puzzled, he knew exactly what he did; he saw a gap in the system,” Simpson said.

He said Lemtongthai had shown no sign of remorse and had not assisted the police or provided evidence that could help in arresting other suspects in the rhino smuggling case. He also hadn’t offered any reparations to the South African people for the rhinos he had assisted in killing.

“He offers nothing and wants ubuntu because he heard it is his right in South Africa,” he said.

Simpson said Lemtongthai could be sentenced to a maximum of 260 years in jail for the rhino horns he had been involved in smuggling. He could also face a fine of R40 million.

But according to the plea agreement, Lemtongthai is likely to face a 10-year sentence.

Simpson later called Lemtongthai’s crime the “biggest swindle in South Africa’s environmental history”.

The day started on Wednesday with Price cross-examining animal rights activist Miranda Jordan.

In a heated exchange that got members of the public gallery involved and magistrate Prince Manyathi threatening to hold proceedings in camera, Price questioned Jordan’s objectivity.

On Monday, Jordan, appearing as a witness in aggravation of sentencing, told the court that an example had to been made of Lemtongthai.

Price objected to her use of the term “rhino killer” in referring to Lemtongthai and the word “hack” in relation to removing a horn. “Would you slither it off?” said Jordan, “it is not like cutting off fingernails.”

When Price interrupted Jordan, one of her supporters in the gallery told him not to interrupt her. This prompted Manyathi to say this was not a circus and that he would remove the public and hold court in camera.

Manyathi said he would sentence Lemtongthai on Friday.

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