Alleged rhino horn syndicate members in court

Three members of an alleged rhino horn syndicate appeared briefly in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

No charges were put to safari operators Clayton Fletcher (32) of Sandhurst Safaris in the North West Province, Gert Saaiman (48) of Saaiman Hunting Safaris, and Pretoria hunter Deon van Deventer (36).

Charges were withdrawn against a fourth man, Kumaran Moodaly of Port Elizabeth, without any reasons being given.

The prosecution will apply on Tuesday for the postponement of the trial.

The accused will face charges of racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of various provincial conservation acts as well as the Aviation Act.

The state alleges the accused had committed the offences as members of a group consisting of hunters, a pilot, middlemen and buyers who allegedly hunted rhino and traded in the horns stolen from the carcasses.

A small airplane belonging to Saaiman was allegedly used to locate the rhino in various national parks around the country.

It was also allegedly used to transport poachers to different national parks, where the rhino were shot and dehorned.

The same aircraft was then allegedly used to transport the horns to Fletcher’s farm in Tosca in the North West Province.

The charges relate to 17 rhino that were killed and dehorned between December 2005 and August 2006 in the Kruger National Park, the Mfolozi National Park and private game farms in the Bela Bela and Komatipoort districts.

The criminal trial follows an intensive joint operation between the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority’s organised crime prosecution division and the Asset Forfeiture Unit, which in May this year seized the accused’s houses, Fletcher’s seven farms in the North West province, Saaiman’s airplane and various other assets of the group.

This was after the High Court in Pretoria in April granted a restraint order for R45-million in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Three other accused who were allegedly also part of the syndicate pleaded guilty and were sentenced in 2007.

Kalahari farmers Gideon van Deventer and his older brother Nic were respectively sentenced to 10 and five years imprisonment, part of which was suspended. Game farmer Pieter Swart (24) of Kroonstad was fined R50 000, or one year imprisonment, for his involvement in the crimes. - Sapa

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