Rhino ‘poacher’ a bad man

By Yogas Nair Time of article published Mar 26, 2012

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The farmer believed to be behind a poaching syndicate in Northern KwaZulu- Natal, is a dangerous criminal who told a police agent he wanted to shoot someone in the head to see what it looked like.

So said Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux, testifying in the Magudu Magistrate’s Court in a bail application. He said alleged syndicate leader Evert Potgieter, 34, also had links to corrupt cops.

He asked the court not to grant bail to Potgieter and three of his four alleged accomplices.

The five are facing charges of conspiracy to hunt 10 rhino and attempting to hunt rhino. Potgieter and his co-accused Riaan Vermaak, 32, a Newcastle farmer, face additional charges of possessing unlicensed firearms and ammunition and stolen property.

Potgieter and Vermaak, together with their alleged accomplices, Philomon Mbatha, 42 and brothers Dumisane, 30, and Nkosinathi Sithole, 32 – both security guards at the Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve – were arrested three weeks ago during a sting operation when undercover police agents were taken to the reserve to poach 10 rhino.

Bail for Mbatha, who worked as a farm labourer for Potgieter was not opposed. The bail application was adjourned to Thursday.

In his affidavit handed in to the court, Van Zyl-Roux said it was believed that police were also involved in the syndicate and they could be used to intimidate witnesses.

He said Potgieter was an habitual criminal who had already threatened witnesses and his accomplices in this case.

Potgieter had a string of convictions since 2001 including attempted murder, stock theft, assault and hunting of game.

For all of these convictions he received suspended sentences.

“The accused has already been convicted of serious and violent crimes. The fact that he got away with a slap on the wrist on those occasions would motivate him to do the same again,” Van Zyl-Roux said in his affidavit.

He said Potgieter was found, during a raid on his farm, to have various firearms not licensed to him and had access to other illegal firearms and ammunition.

A 9mm pistol and five rifles were seized. Only the 30-06 rifle was licensed. The others were a .300 Winchester magnum, a .223 Vector “assault rifle”, a Hornet .22 rifle and a replica Boer War Martini Henry.

Only one was licensed to him while the others belonged to friends who had since died, he said.

However, he was not supposed to have them as he had been found unfit to possess firearms and his application for firearm competency had been turned down, Van Zyl-Roux said on Thursday.

“During the sting operation, he even approached one of the police agents and instructed him to provide him with an unlicensed pistol, so that he could shoot people who gave him trouble. He boasted that he wanted to shoot someone in the head to see what it looked like.”

He said there was a strong possibility if released on bail, Potgieter would rejoin the other syndicate members in order to collect enough money to pay for his legal counsel.

Van Zyl-Roux said the only assets Potgieter owned were a few pieces of furniture and a few odds and ends. The farm he stayed on and the vehicle he drove, belonged to his family, who also supported him, Van Zyl-Roux said.

“Information has been received from various sources that the accused has been in contact with members of his family who have attempted to influence state witnesses and threaten them with bodily harm.

“If granted bail, he could attempt to trace the witnesses in this case and make an example of them. Potgieter has already threatened to kill or to get others to kill witnesses in this case.”

He said Potgieter was arrested for his part in the planning and foiled poaching of 10 rhino at Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve.

He was also involved in the planning of another hunt for three rhino – a bull, cow and her two-year-old calf – on the farm of a Mr Van Der Walt in the Gluckstadt area, Van Zyl-Roux said.

Van Zyl-Roux said a map of the Gluckstadt farm was found on Potgieter’s bar counter.

“He did not enter the farm with the others. He was afraid of arrest. He was involved in another case in the Mkuze area, where he allegedly shot a kudu with one of the firearms seized from him. Cartridge cases were found at the scene and have been sent for ballistics.”

Van Zyl-Roux said other specially protected fauna and flora were also recovered from Potgieter’s farm including six Encephalartos aemulans cycads. He said Potgieter did not have a permit to possess, move or transport the cycads.

Dagga plants were found in the garden and in an area cordoned off with shade cloth, implying Potgieter was cultivating dagga with the intention of selling it, Van Zyl-Roux said.

A poison called Temic or “two steps” was also found at Potgieter’s farm.

“This is used by criminals to poison water holes to kill rhinos and predators such as lions. It is also used to poison guard dogs. A packet containing meatballs with Temic in it was recovered in Potgieter’s vehicle on the day of his arrest.”

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