Controversial rhino breeder temporarily calls off court action to recover rhino horns seized by law enforcement officials
Controversial rhino breeder John Hume has called off court action for now to recover 181 rhino horns seized by law enforcement officials in a murky trade deal last year.
Hume, whose owns 1806 rhinos, insists that the legally harvested horns are his rightful property and cannot be forfeited to the state.
“We have engaged the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as well as the Hawks on this matter and will be meeting with them in due course to discuss the return of the horns to our client,” Hume’s attorney Ulrich Roux said this week.
“We have received a written undertaking from the Hawks and the NPA that the horns are in safe custody and will be kept there until a final decision is made pertaining to same. Given the undertaking provided by the state, it has not been necessary to launch any court action at this stage,” he said.
NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana said the horns have not been forfeited to the state nor disposed to anyone “as they are exhibits in an ongoing investigations.
“In terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, the disposal of any exhibits is determined at the conclusion of the investigation and or prosecutions”.
Earlier this month, in the Brits Magistrate’s Court, Clive John Melville, a second-hand car dealer and a relative of Hume’s and co-accused Petrus Stephanus Steyn, a general labourer, pleaded guilty to charges of possession and transport of 181 horns without the necessary permits. The horns were reportedly destined for South East Asian markets.
They were fined R50000 and R25000 respectively. Melville also pleaded guilty to forgery for preparing a document that “purported to give him permission to possess and or transport the horns” on behalf of the buyer, Allan Rossouw.
The pair was nabbed by law enforcement officials on April 13 last year in Skeerpoort in North West, after a tip-off that a vehicle from a coastal province was carrying a sizeable number of rhino horns.
The plea and sentence agreement states how this type of offence is "very prevalent” in South Africa, where the plight of the rhino is well-known.
“While it is true that the horns in question were harvested legally the circumstances nevertheless show that criminals will go to great lengths to satisfy the bizarre demand for rhino horn due to the black market value thereof.
"The high number of horns involved in this instance and consequently the high potential value thereof is enormous, even if it did not materialise, due to the efforts of the police.”
Hume, said Roux, is in possession of documentary records and permits to “substantiate the fact that the horns were legally harvested at his captive breeding operation and that he is permitted by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (Deff) to possess the horns.
“In order for a valid transaction to have taken place and for our client to have given up his lawful ownership of the horns, a determined price for the said horns was to be paid by the purchaser before transfer of ownership could have taken place.
“This never occurred, as the horns were seized by the Hawks prior to the potential buyer having sight of the horns. Ownership of the horns was accordingly never transferred and our client remains the lawful owner of the horns.”
Roux previously told the Saturday Star that both the accused were “agents” acting for Rossouw. Melville, he said, is an “indirect family member of our client, although our client has no contact with him and has not spoken to him for a number of years”.
Hume successfully challenged the government’s 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in 2017.
Since then, there have been cases where criminals have used the legal trade to gain access to horn, according to Albi Modise, Deff spokesperson. “This was anticipated and legal trade is, therefore, being closely investigated. When necessary, investigations are initiated into illegal activities. A number of investigations are under way in relation to the illegal activities that have been detected.”
Modise said that “as soon as we detected the abuse of the system” it amended the permit conditions for the buying and selling of rhino horn. “Additional steps were also incorporated into the review of applications for such permits, which involves a more detailed evaluation of the potential buyers and sellers.”
Roux said there is no responsibility on Hume to determine any bona fides of a legal buyer of rhino horns as he can lawfully sell horns “any person who has applied for and been granted a valid buyer’s permit” by Deff.
Kim da Ribiera of Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching said it had long maintained that a legal trade would facilitate the illegal trade of horn. "After the lifting of the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn, we saw several international seizures of horn that appears to be 'harvested horn' ... There continues to be a lack of political will to ensure the ongoing rhino poaching crisis is effectively addressed."
Timeline: from permit applications to seizure of 181 rhino horns
John Hume applied to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on September 7, 2018 to sell 181 horns to “a certain Allan Rossouw”. The application was approved and a permit to sell and a permit to buy the horns was issued by the minister.
On February 25, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) issued a permit to possess the 181 horns at the Bidvest Protea Coin premises in the name of the buyer.
On March 26, an application was made to GDARD for a permit to transport the horns from Bidvest Protea Coin to Knox Titanium Vault in Houghton, with a permit issued on April 9 in the name of Rossouw.
On April 12, Melville and Steyn proceeded to Bidvest Protea Coin to collect the horns, ostensibly on Rossouw’s behalf “in whose name the transport permit was issued. The accused were acting in this regard on instructions of the brother of Meville - Charles Melville - and/or Mr Hume, who requested they collect the horns from Bidvest and to take them to a place where they could be inspected by potential buyers before negotiations regarding price could be determined between such buyers and Charles Melville and/or John Hume”.
The potential buyers were “two people from Bloemfontein” with their names and contact details given to Melville by Charles Melville. The latter informed Melville that the “horns were to be sold legally”.