File photo by Reuters.

Pretoria - Rhinos belonging to game farmer Dawie Groenewald, one of the people implicated in a ring that allegedly killed rhinos and traded in their horns, will be sent to another game farm for safe keeping pending the finalisation of the criminal trial.

This order was made yesterday by Pretoria High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo, following an urgent application by the National Director of Public Prosecutions to confirm an earlier preservation order against the alleged rhino syndicate.

The judge, however, discharged the preservation order.

He ordered that all Groenewald’s rhinos must be handed over to John Humes, one of the biggest rhino owners in the country.

An application by the curator to sell all the accused’s assets was not heard yesterday in light of the preservation order being discharged.

The National Prosecution Authority (NPA)’s Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained an interim restraint order in may in terms of which a curator took control of the assets of Dawie Groenewald, Karel Toet, Manie du Plessis and others, which included the companies they owned or held interests in.

The prosecution authority obtained the restraint order in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, as it was claimed these assets were obtained from the proceeds of crime.

The curator, Theo van den Heever, said in court papers that the assets had to be sold urgently as a going concern as the money to keep the game and game farms running was drying up. He stated that if these assets were not urgently sold, there would be no assets left for the State to pocket in the event of a guilty verdict.

Van den Heever said the cash flow of the businesses was being hampered as no income was being generated. The recent drought (during the winter) had resulted in the game having to be fed. Due to the draught there is no fodder available in Limpopo (where the farms are) and the cost had “more than trebled per bale” as it had be obtained from other provinces.

The cash flow to buy fodder was depleted by July and a loan had to be obtained.

“This is not a suitable solution and it is necessary to sell the business urgently,” the curator said.

He added that on two of the game farms there was game worth R15 million and it was vital to feed the animals to keep them alive.

Income could also not be generated from hunting, as it was the end of the hunting season.

Van den Heever said that in light of the financial problems maintaining the farms, the assets stood to be depleted.

Counsel for the NPA, in asking for the preservation order to be confirmed, said they did not agree with the curator that everything should be sold, as this would not solve the problems.

Judge Bill Prinsloo was told the defendants (the accused who are the farm owners) should be called back to run the farms, subject to certain conditions.

Judge Prinsloo made it clear he will not allow the animals to die and that he wanted the matter resolved urgently.

Groenewald and the others meanwhile vehemently opposed the confirmation of the preservation order as well as selling of the assets. They said that from the start they wanted to negotiate with the State as dealing in wild animals was a specialised field in which a curator had little knowledge or experience.

Groenewald’s suggestion was that the rhinos should be sold and the proceeds should be held at a financial institution and that he and the other accused would furnish the State with guarantees regarding a potential payment to it. According to him the preservation of the assets should have stood over until their criminal trial was finalised.

The State never entertained this suggestion but went ahead to seize the assets, he said.

According to him the businesses were their only livelihood, saying: “We have to finance the legal costs of our upcoming criminal trial from the proceeds of the business.”

He added that if the businesses were sold, it would deprive them of an income and impair their ability to pay their legal costs.

Groenewald said it was expected that the criminal trial would be lengthy as there were many State witnesses and it would be expensive to fund. Their criminal trial was earlier postponed to May 3 next year.

While he persisted that he and the others were not guilty of any wrongdoing, Groenewald said the amount of R55m the State claimed they made from the proceeds of rhino horns was greatly inflated.

Groenewald said they never benefited from any criminal activities and did not illegally deal in rhino horns as he had authorisation from the relevant authorities to dehorn the rhinos.

He added that they did not steal any rhinos, as those which were dehorned belonged to them.

Pretoria News