R17m tusk raid shrouded in secrecy
Pretoria - Elephant tusks believed to be worth more than R17 million were seized at a business premises in Derdepoort, north of Pretoria, on Wednesday afternoon.
The items were taken during an operation conducted jointly by the Hawks and Paul O’Sullivan & Associates, at Big Buck Taxidermy - albeit under mysterious circumstances.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said he was not yet aware of the operation and could not shed more light on the matter.
The officers carrying out the raid, however, wore T-shirts with “Hawks Johannesburg” branding on them and loaded 23 tusks into two unmarked vehicles. The owner of the business refused to speak to the Pretoria News.
Big Buck Taxidermy specialises in preparing, stuffing and mounting skins of animals for display like hunting trophies or museum displays, among others.
The officers from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation loaded the tusks into the two vans and drove off with them.
It was still unclear where the tusks originated from and why they had been kept on the premises.
Hawks officers who could not be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media, indicated the tusks had been seized because the company no longer had a permit to keep them on the premises. The permit had expired, they said. No one was arrested after the seizure.
In a mysterious turn-around, however, affidavits leaked by undercover agents implicated the company in the apparent selling of the tusks for R17m.
The information was given to Paul O’Sullivan & Associates and later the Hawks, sparking a series of events and meetings as part of the investigation.
It was stated in the affidavit that a meeting was arranged after the buyer insisted on seeing the tusks before completing the transaction.
The business premises listed in the affidavits is the same one from where the tusks were seized.
Upon entering the premises, they were met by a person who went to the back room and grabbed a zebra skin and “quickly threw it over some things that were lying on the floor”, which later turned out to be the tusks.
They took pictures of the tusks, and these were attached to the affidavit. The Pretoria News has seen both the affidavits and the photos.
The photos of some of the tusks, held up by two men, were taken in front of what appears to be a safe.
The affidavits also included a series of text messages where requests for payment were being made subsequent to the meeting. Also attached was a list of the tusks, with a description of each, its condition as well as weight.
Ivory poaching for tusks is the main reason that elephants have been so heavily hunted and why their numbers are being depleted in certain countries across the globe.
Elephant ivory is highly expensive and has been used in huge amounts to make billiard balls, piano keys, identification chips and many other sought-after items.
Although international trade in Asian elephant ivory has been banned since 1975, elephant tusks are used all over the world.
The biggest market for ivory is in East Asia.