SUMMER is coming and 21 men accused of operating a large abalone poaching syndicate will be allowed to dip their toes in the ocean after strict bail conditions were amended in the Khayelitsha Regional Court.
The men face 51 provisional charges, including racketeering, money laundering and abalone smuggling, after allegedly running a R2 billion national syndicate on the instruction of Ran Wei, a Chinese citizen.
The syndicate is alleged to have operated for 12 years.
Wei is still at large and authorities are trying to track him via Interpol so he can stand trial with Daniel Frank Barends, Christiaan Crous, Donovan Dickson, Jody Behr, Daniel October, Quinton Knoetse, Abdul Mabarra, Ebraim van Tonder, Mannetjies Chaka, Johannes Jacobs, Frederick Matthews, Henry Spandiel, Gabriel van Wyk, Christopher Kapot, Walter Delport, Anton McLain, Gilbert Hart, Frank Maritz, Boltwan Boezak, Samuel Porett and Piet Booysen.
It is the State’s case that Wei funded the payment of the syndicate’s poaching groups and the rental of properties used to process and dry abalone.
The men first appeared in the Hermanus Magistrate’s Court in July and were granted bail ranging from R100 000 to R10 000. The case was then moved to the Khayelitsha Regional Court which is the National Prosecuting Authority’s Priority Crimes Court.
Under their previous bail conditions, the men were barred from going within 50m of the beach. But their lawyer, Anthony Broadway, told the court yesterday that this was impractical and that the bail conditions needed to be defined.
After consulting with the two investigating officers, State advocate Helene Booysen said she had no objection to the bail conditions being altered.
Magistrate Johan Venter adjusted the conditions, allowing the accused, except Behr and Matthews, to visit beaches. But they are prohibited from boarding a boat or rubber duck on open water, are not allowed to be in possession of diving equipment and may not be involved in launching a boat.
The conditions do not apply to Behr and Matthews whose livelihoods depend on their working on board boats.
The men also have to notify the investigating officer if they leave their respective homes in Hermanus, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Beaufort West.
Booysen said that if the men were convicted of money laundering, they could pay a fine of R100 million or face life imprisonment.
The group are due back in court on March 8.