A multidisciplinary operation led by the Hawks’ wildlife trafficking counter-intelligence unit resulted in the arrest on Wednesday of an alleged rhino kingpin and a prominent businessman in Mpumalanga
The two were apprehended while transporting 19 rhino horns in two vehicles and charged with the illegal possession and selling of the horns, which are valued at R2.6-million.
A statement by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) on Thursday said professional big game hunter Schalk Steyn (48), better known as AB Steyn, and 53-year-old Johannes Groenewald, better known as Dawie, appeared in the Nelspruit magistrate’s court and would apply for bail on Friday.
The Hawks’ Colonel Katlego Mogale said that Groenewald had a prior case relating to endangered species pending against him and six others in Musina.
Groenewald and his co-accused — his wife, two veterinarians and professional hunters —- made headlines in 2010 when they were arrested after a 15-month investigation allegedly linking them to illegal rhino-poaching operations stretching over four years.
More than 10 years later and after Groenewald and his co-accused were granted bail, the high court case is still dragging on. IOL reported in February that Groenewald and his co-accused had made another court appearance, but it was postponed again.
In a separate matter in 2014, 16 people were arrested in the Czech Republic linked to a rhino poaching syndicate. The Czech syndicate was allegedly linked to Groenewald, Eyewitness News reported seven years ago, but he denied any ties.
In 2017, a Limpopo court ruled in favour of Groenewald and his brother, Janneman, blocking their extradition to the United States after its department of justice had pressed charges against them relating to a conspiracy to sell illegal rhino hunts in South Africa in bid to defraud US hunters.
Steyn is the owner of AB Steyn Safaris, based in Nelspruit (Mbombela) and conducts hunts in the North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.
According to Bossies Community Justice founder Albert Gryvenstein, the arrest of Steyn comes as a surprise for many. Gryvenstein, who supports police and security companies in the fight against crime, told the Mail & Guardian that Steyn was well-known for conducting hunting trips for professional and international hunters.
The World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF) South Africa has welcomed the arrest of Steyn and Groenewald.
“We often talk of the need to shift law enforcement focus from the poachers on the ground to the wildlife trafficking syndicate members,” said Jo Shaw, senior manager of the wildlife programme at WWF South Africa.
“This week’s arrests are applauded as an excellent example of this — brought about by targeted investigations and co-operation between the authorities and the private sector and bring opportunity for serious network disruption through incarceration and seizure of assets.”