MORE THAN GOLD: Valued about R750000.00/kg, rhino horn is the costliest commodity on the planet. Picture: Jim Freeman 270115
MORE THAN GOLD: Valued about R750000.00/kg, rhino horn is the costliest commodity on the planet. Picture: Jim Freeman 270115
Abalone worth an estimated R1 million has been seized from a home in Philippi, Cape Town but no arrests have been made. FILE PHOTO: Mike Hutchings
Abalone worth an estimated R1 million has been seized from a home in Philippi, Cape Town but no arrests have been made. FILE PHOTO: Mike Hutchings

Cape Town - Conservation law enforcement authorities have hailed the latest conviction and sentencing of a Chinese national found with bits of rhino, lions claws and crocodile meat as a victory.

Wu Xiaohui, 36, who worked as a sushi chef for the Spar supermarket group, pleaded guilty to five charges of contravening sections of the Civil Aviation Act and the Marine Living Resources Act, in the Bellville Regional Court on Wednesday.

Wu had been arrested on January 23 for an environmental offence when he was found trying fly 150 pieces of abalone to China. He was re-arrested three days later for another environmental offence. He appeared in court on Wednesday, having entered into a plea bargain agreement with the State.

Wu had been charged with two counts of conveying animal products on an aircraft, possession of a rhino carcass, possession of lion claws and crocodile meat and for being in contravention of the Marine Living Resources Act regarding the abalone.

On January 23 he was stopped by airport police and found with 150 dried abalone pieces in an aircraft at Cape Town International Airport, without the necessary permission.

On January 26, being released from custody, he was stopped by the police at the departure lounge, when he hid “animal product” in his luggage, destined for China.

He had two pieces of rhino horns, 4g of rhino horn powder, three lion claws and 2.982kg of Nile crocodile meat in his luggage while attempting to board an aircraft without written permission and relevant documents from the government.

Magistrate Sue Smith found him guilty and sentenced him to five years direct imprisonment of which three and a half years were wholly suspended for five years on condition that he was not convicted of similar offences. These sentences will run concurrently. He will also pay a R40 000 fine or serve two years direct imprisonment for being in possession of the rhino carcass.

Affidavits from the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries and Cape Nature, who verified the animal parts, were handed into court.

State prosecutor Blaine Lazarus also noted that Wu had a previous abalone conviction in March 2010 in which he was fined R30 000 with a six month sentence suspended for five years.

Defence lawyer Asghar Mia, for Wu, argued that his client’s current offence occurred three months before the suspension date expired.

Smith extended the suspension date for five more years.

Outside of court, Paul Gildenhuys, the manager of Cape Nature’s Biodiversity Crimes Unit, said it was “a good sentence” and any conviction for rhinos was good.

He said it was the second man they had nabbed found with rhino horn - having recently arrested a man in possession of 10grams of rhino horn.

“Any part, whether it’s 1g or 20 horns, we want to send a message,” he said.

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Cape Argus