Breeder fails to get back 181 confiscated rhino horns worth R10 million

John Hume on his ranch outside Johannesburg. Picture: Bloomberg

John Hume on his ranch outside Johannesburg. Picture: Bloomberg

Published Feb 15, 2022


Pretoria - One of the largest white rhino breeders in the world, John Hume, lost his legal bid against the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations to be given back 181 rhino horns estimated to be worth about R10 million.

Hume turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria after the Hawks confiscated the horns three years ago during a crime operation. Two men who were transporting the horns from Hume’s vault in Centurion, where they were kept, did not have the necessary permits to transport them.

Clive John Melville and Petrus Steyn were arrested by the Hawks on April 13, 2019 at Skeerpoort in the North West. The Hawks subsequently confiscated the horns belonging to Hume.

Melville and Steyn appeared in the Brits Magistrate’s Court, where they entered into a plea bargain agreement. They were fined R50 000 and R25 000 respectively after pleading guilty to being illegally in possession of the horns.

The National Prosecuting Authority at the time mentioned that it would launch a forfeiture application regarding the horns, but that never materialised.

The magistrate, at the conclusion of the case, also did not order the horns – which were due to be an exhibit if the trial went ahead – to be forfeited to the State.

Hume, therefore, turned to the high court to get his horns back from the Hawks.

Hume, who owns more than 1 800 rhinos which he uses to harvest their horns, told the court he had obtained the necessary documents to authorise the selling of 181 horns to one, Alan Rossouw.

Judge SK Hassim commented that the permits, which were shown to her as part of this application, were illegible.

Hume, however, claimed the documents were in order – on his side and on Rossouw’s side – regarding the sale. He said the agreement was that Rossouw – whom he had never met in person – would transport the horns from the vault, to his (Rossouw’s) vault in Houghton.

Rossouw would then inspect the horns and make him (Hume) an offer.

The court was told the permits made provision for the horns to be transported only within Gauteng, and Rossouw only was allowed to transport them.

The Hawks, meanwhile, got wind of the transaction and organised a sting operation, as they were told some of the horns might be sold on the black market. They saw Melville and Steyn collecting the horns and followed them.

They were subsequently arrested on their way to the North West.

Rossouw, meanwhile, told the Hawks he had no intention of buying the horns. He said he had agreed to permit applications being submitted in his name in exchange for money.

According to the Hawks, the fraudulent applications were used to illegally trade in rhino horns.

Hume, in turn, said he knew nothing about this.

Judge Hassim said that version of events struck her as “most bizarre”.

“It is astounding that a self-professed businessman would voluntarily release valuable assets, such as rhino horns, from his control and custody, entrust them to a “potential buyer” he has never personally met for inspection in the hope that the potential buyer becomes a buyer,” she said.

“This scenario borders on the preposterous,” she added.

In turning down the application, Judge Hassim said until the criminal court which handled the plea bargain earlier made an order for the release of the horns, the Hawks were obliged to keep them in its possession.

Pretoria News