Technical glitches delay rhino poaching trial
Pretoria - In September this year, it will be eight years since Limpopo game farmer Dawie Groenewald and his co-accused were arrested on a multitude of rhino poaching related charges, yet their criminal trial was on Monday once again postponed to still sort out various technical glitches.
Groenewald, alleged to be the rhino horn syndicate kingpin and his co-accused, which include a helicopter pilot, two veterinarians and professional hunters, appeared in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, where their trial was this time postponed to March 29.
All charges were meanwhile withdrawn by the state against Groenewald’s wife Sariette. This followed last years’ Constitutional Court ruling confirming the lifting of South Africa’s moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn.
This also resulted in the state dropping about 60 charges against the eight accused and an amended charge sheet was subsequently served on the group in December last year.
They are, however, still facing about 1 600 charges, ranging from racketeering, money laundering, illegal hunting of rhino to dealing in rhino horn.
Prosecutor Joanie Spies told the court that there were a lot of developments in the case since the group appeared in court in June last year, including that they were partially successful in their Constitutional challenge, which led to some charges being dropped and an amended charge sheet which had to be drawn up.
One of the accused, Manie du Plessis, was also still engaging with the State regarding a possible plea bargain. Spies said as far as she understood, this was still on track.
The State had also formulated certain admissions regarding the case, which had had forwarded to the defence teams. Spies said the State was still waiting for a response on this, but she understood from one of the defence team members that they will make no admissions.
She said while the State had been ready for more than a year to call its witnesses, the case had to be postponed so that these and various other issues could be sorted out. The plan was to meet with Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba to allocate a judge to streamline all these outstanding issues, before the trial could kick-off.
The defence estimated that the criminal trial could last between six months to a year once it had started. It agreed that the Constitutional challenge did delay matters, but it was agreed that the outstanding matters had to be adjudicated by a judge before the trial could kick-off.
All the accused are out on bail, except accused Nardus Rossouw, whose bail was revoked after he was arrested on other related charges last year.
The group, said to be one the largest rhino syndicates in the country, were arrested in September 2010 after a 15 month investigation called “Project Cruiser”. They were allegedly linked to hundreds of illegal rhino poaching operations over four years.
About 26 buried rhino carcasses were in 2013 found on Groenewald’s farm in Musina, with their horns removed.
Groenewald and his brother Janneman Groenewald, were yet again arrested in June last year, a mere few days after their former court appearance, after Interpol executed an international warrant for their arrest.
They were at the time again released on bail.
This came after American hunters claimed they were misled by the Groenewalds and their hunting company into believing that they were legally hunting rhino when they came out to the Limpopo farm.