File photo: Independent Media

Gaborone - Four Chinese men who were arrested for attempting to smuggle a leopard hide and 14 rhinos horn out of Namibia three years ago have been convicted of the charges by a magistrate in the capital Windhoek.

Wang Hui, 41, Pu Xuexin, 51, Li Zhibing, 55, and Li Xiaoliang, 32, were, however, remanded in custody to September 23 when they will appear for a final pre-sentencing trial.

According to the State, the four were arrested on March 24, 2014, while trying to smuggle the contraband out to China through the Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek.

The contraband was found stashed in two suitcases and disguised as part of personal clothing. Since April 2014, the four have made a series of appearances at the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court to face charges of illegal possession or dealing, as well as attempting to smuggle controlled wildlife products out of Namibia.

Three of the men have consistently denied both charges while the intended courier had already pleaded guilty. Handing down the convictions, Magistrate Alexis Diergaardt said the State had proven beyond doubt that the four had acted in common purpose in planning and implementing the failed smuggling attempt.

Several Chinese, as well as Angolan, Zambian and Zimbabwean citizens, have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching and trafficking in ivory products over the past three years. Early this month, three Namibian, two Zambians and one Angolan citizen were arrested for the poaching of two rhinos in the Okahandja and Oshikoto districts.