Picture: Thomas D. Mangelsen

DURBAN - Time could be up for a crooked cabal of magistrates, prosecutors and police allegedly working closely with a criminal syndicate to subvert justice in KwaZulu-Natal.

It is alleged that senior magistrates linked to a syndicate were being paid to let rhino poachers, murderers and rapists go with a slap on the wrist.

People operating pyramid schemes were also escaping justice.

The allegations first publicly surfaced in October when the environmental organisation Saving the Wild, published the Blood Rhino Blacklist, an alleged “syndicate of magistrates and prosecutors protecting not only rhino poachers and kingpins, but murderers and rapists too”.

Saving the Wild is run by an activist, Jamie Joseph, who ratcheted up the pressure this week, arranging the worldwide publication, via the BBC, of an open letter endorsed by prominent people including Sir Richard Branson, Jane Goodall, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and local musician Vusi Mahlasela.

The open letter was issued by Saving the Wild.

It urges the South African government to take action against the alleged syndicate and to support police in their investigations.

Publication of the letter follows concerns that there has been a political cover-up of these investigations with several key witnesses now fearing for their lives.

In interviews with the Sunday Tribune, Joseph said the Magistrates Commission started investigations into magistrates, including KZN’s Regional Court president, Eric Nzimande, two years ago.

She said despite evidence of corrupt deals with poachers and criminals, no disciplinary action had been taken against implicated magistrates and others.

She said her own investigative team, the Magistrates Commission and police, had evidence that Nzimande was allegedly a key role player linked to a rhino poaching syndicate.

Nzimande has denied the allegations and that he is being investigated.

Chris Barnard, head of the commission, confirmed the investigations into KZN magistrates, including Nzimande.

He said no action had been taken because investigations were ongoing and incomplete.

“There are presently criminal investigations being handled by the SAPS while we will deal with misconduct allegations.

“This makes things very complicated.

“We have two magistrates overseeing the investigations into Nzimande,” said Barnard.

He said the delays were due to witnesses being scared to give information. “Some of them have received death threats.”

Pressure is now mounting on the commission and other justice departments to act decisively.

Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery assured the public that the delay in justice being served was not a cover-up.

“Nobody is above the law. We will act against magistrates who are found guilty of misconduct, as we have done previously,” promised Jeffery.

In her letter, published online by the BBC, Joseph claimed that the law was not acting as a deterrent to the slaughter of rhinos. She highlighted that in 2017, 222 rhinos were killed for their horns, which are known to fetch as much as R160 000 a kilogram and much more overseas.

Saving the Wild has also claimed that there was a definite system of command within the alleged syndicate, with the shared intention among all role players to make a profit.

Confirming that Nzimande was being investigated, Jeffery said he was also aware that Joseph had received death threats.

He said his department did not have the power to do anything until the commission had made its recommendations.

“I am concerned about the delay, but it has to be resolved one way or the other,” said Jeffery.

But he added that the department was no longer appointing two recommended candidates as KZN magistrates as they also had “clouds hanging over their heads”.

Joseph said that retired policeman, Major-General Bala Naidoo, had handed a police investigation report into a rhino poaching syndicate to KZN Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Moipone Noko.

Action was promised, but there had been no visible progress, said Joseph.

While Noko and the SAPS did not respond to queries, Joseph is still optimistic perpetrators will be found.

“All we want is for the DPP to assign top advocates to this important police investigation.

“I do believe justice will be done.

“There are enough resilient and influential people fighting for this now,” said Joseph.

When the National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole and his team appeared before the Police Portfolio Committee in Parliament this week, DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard raised the issue of rhino poaching.

She said: “It seems every time the allegations of corruption in KZN Magistrate’s courts begin to be investigated, the relevant SAPS investigator is moved onto another project, or targeted and fired.”

The IFP’s chief whip Narend Singh promised to challenge the delay when Parliament sits on Tuesday.

He said he had raised concerns around corrupt activities linked to rhino poaching over a year ago, but had not received a response from Jeffery’s department.

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SUNDAY TRIBUNE