Rhino horn bust at Battery beach, in front of the old Natal Comand Picture: Richard Slatter

Rhino poaching syndicates had so much money they could afford to forfeit any amount of bail set by courts when their members were arrested, a policeman told a court on Tuesday.

Warrant Officer Jean Pierre Roux also testified that a Zululand man was the link between rhino poachers in KwaZulu-Natal and Chinese buyers who allegedly export the horns to the Far East.

Roux opposed bail for Vusi Mashaba, 40, of Zululand, and four foreigners who were arrested recently for dealing in rhino horn.

Mashaba appeared in the Germiston Magistrate’s Court, along with three Chinese nationals – Ke Sum, 29, his wife, Xiaju Chen, also 29, and Liu Zihou, 34 – as well as Malawian Harrison Noah, 26.

The bail application was adjourned to next week for an interpreter.

In his affidavit, Roux said the accused were arrested in Bedfordview and were found in possession of two rhino horns, weighing 10kg, five large elephant tusks and two leopard skins – all from animals on South Africa’s list of threatened or protected species.

“The suspects had received the horns from Mashaba and were in the process of sawing the horns into smaller pieces when arrested,” he said in the affidavit. “Mashaba was involved with the transporting and delivering of the rhino horns to the three Chinese suspects. He was involved with various other transactions regarding rhino horn. He is the middleman between the rhino poachers in KwaZulu-Natal and the Chinese buyers who export the horns to the East.”

Roux said if released on bail, there was a likelihood the accused would commit the same offence again, would attempt to evade trial, intimidate witnesses or try to conceal or destroy evidence.

The accused were part of a group involved in the illegal dealing of protected and specially protected game, he said.

According to statistics, Roux said that to date, 220 rhino had been poached this year compared to 83 in 2008 and 122 in 2009.

He said syndicates from the Far East were working with locals and foreigners to poach rhinos and export horns to Vietnam and China.

“These syndicates make a huge profit from the illegal sale of the horns. The two horns in question could be sold for about R5 million.”

Roux said the syndicates also had the money to pay the bail and legal fees.

“The syndicates, who usually pay the bail, fines and legal costs of their members, make a huge profit and can afford to forfeit any amount of bail the court may determine.”

He said there was still a lot of work outstanding in the investigation, including DNA and forensic results on the seized goods.

Two other foreigners, Chu Duc Gu Lit, 22, and Nauyen Dang Khahn, 24, of Vietnam, who were arrested during a second sting operation at the Midrand Golfing Estate, are still in custody.

They were found in possession of eight horns, and are expected to appear in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on July 5, for a report from the Department of Home Affairs.

It has been alleged that Lit’s and Khahn’s visas had expired on October 28, 2008, but they had entered the country on December 3, 2008. - Daily News