Picture: Jim Freeman

Durban - The ill-gotten gains of a rhino poaching syndicate and two vehicles belonging to the man alleged to be its ringleader have been seized by the state following a successful undercover police operation.

In an application which came before Durban High Court Judge Esther Steyn on Friday, the Asset Forfeiture Unit secured a final order confiscating R110 000 in cash and a bakkie and a BMW which will now be sold, and all the proceeds deposited in a bank account used to fund crime fighting.

In an affidavit before the court, investigating officer Detective Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux gave details of “Operation Racketeer”, an organised crime operation probing the “Gwala” syndicate, based in Emaguzi, close to the Mozambique border.

He said a source had alerted the police to the syndicate after he was approached by Dumisani Gwala to find a person who could supply him with horns.

A policeman was tasked with going undercover and infiltrating the syndicate by acting as a seller of rhino horn.

At their first meeting, Gwala told the policeman he had buyers in Johannesburg and Mozambique. He bragged that sometimes, in one trip, he would make R13 million.

He said he had five luxury vehicles bought with money from selling rhino horn.

The policeman gave him a horn, weighing just more than a kilogram. Gwala promised him R115 000, but eventually paid him only R35 000, saying “the horn had problems with holes”.

In a second operation, two policemen, wired with recording devices, gave Gwala two rhino horns which he said he would sell in Mozambique.

Again he short-changed them, giving them R65 000 and promising another R150 000 at a later date.

Gwala was arrested during the third operation, but he did not go down without a fight.

Van Zyl Roux said the undercover agent - with a special task force member hiding in the boot - met Gwala on the side of a gravel road.

After exchanging the horn for a “bundle” of R100 notes, the task force member leapt out of the boot and tried to arrest him.

But Gwala jumped into his car and tried to ram the police officer into a wall.

Van Zyl-Roux, who was waiting nearby, sped to the scene.

“He was trying to get the car going, but the sand was soft and the tyres were spinning. He had no traction,” he said.

“I broke the passenger window and shouted at him to stop. He ignored me and I managed to remove the keys from the ignition.”

He said when Gwala, who was bleeding, was removed from the car he was “still fighting”.

He had managed to disarm the task force member during the struggle. Shots were also fired.

Gwala and his wife, who on one occasion brought an electronic scale to weigh the horns, were both arrested, as were two others, alleged to be members of the syndicate.

Charges against Gwala’s wife were withdrawn, but the others will stand trial in September.

The Mercury