Dead rhinos ‘hidden’ in butchery
At first they allegedly hid the evidence by giving the rhino carcasses to a local butchery – but when the butcher refused to buy any more, they had to bury the bodies.
The disposal of the dead rhinos was, according to the affidavit of SAPS colonel Johan Jooste, “a distinctive technique used to conceal illegal activities”.
Yesterday, a joint security force, comprising the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit and officials from the Environmental Affairs department, swooped on the Limpopo properties of Dawie Groenewald and veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis. They and nine others are implicated in a ring that allegedly illegally killed rhinos and traded in rhino horn.
The haul included two helicopters, four plush houses, four farms, a fleet of vehicles including a Mercedes-Benz ML, and several trust accounts that were all attached. It all belonged to Groenewald and four of the other suspects, and it is an attempt by the State to recoup the R55 million the suspects allegedly made through the sale of the rhino horn.
Properties of Groenewald’s employee, Tielman Erasmus, were also attached.
A breakdown of how Groenewald and his co-accused allegedly amassed this fortune is detailed in Jooste’s affidavit, which formed part of the application to have their property attached and was granted by the Pretoria High Court.
The affidavit said that between June 2006 and September 2010, “hunters, agents or middlemen and the buyers started procuring rhinoceros on different game farms, wildlife parks and reserves across the country with the aim of dehorning them”.
More than 39 rhinos were killed on Groenewald’s farm Prachtig and the carcasses sold to a neighbouring farm without their horns, the affidavit added.
Groenewald and another co-accused, Hermanus Rossouw, according to the affidavit, induced other farmers to dehorn or sell their rhino horns. Some the rhinos were not killed, but were dehorned after being tranquillised by Toet and Du Plessis, the affidavit contends.
Those rhinos that were killed were at first allegedly sold to a local butcher, but when this fell through, they were buried and later burnt on Groenewald’s farm.
Jooste’s statement said there was evidence of illegal dealing in elephant tusks and teeth.
According to the affidavit, a company, Valinor Trading CC, allegedly partially owned by Groenewald, was used to launder the money received from the illegal activities.
“The payments for the rhinoceros that were being purchased as part of these illegal activities were made through the account of Valinor Trading CC.”
The 11 accused in the case face a total of 1 872 charges that relate to the killing of rhinos, racketeering, money laundering and dealing in rhino horn.
Properties and assets that were attached and seized yesterday will first be evaluated by a curator appointed by the court. Prachtig, estimated to be around 4 300 hectares in size and situated outside Musina, was also attached.
National police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said not all the properties would be seized for the moment, to protect the livelihood of the workers and their families on the farm.
Groenewald and his co-accused were also expected to keep some of the movable assets, such as vehicles, until the end of the court process.
If they are found guilty, the State will then sell the properties to recoup the R55 million.
“We will apply for a confiscation order after they have been convicted. Once we obtain the confiscation order, we will forfeit them (assets) to the State,” said NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga.
Groenewald was at his Musina farm yesterday morning when the officials pounced.
The suspects were arrested in September 2010 and are expected to appear again in the Musina Regional Court on October 19.
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