By Alex Mitchley
The alleged kingpin of one of South Africa’s biggest and most violent rhino poaching syndicates, accused of obtaining 84 rhino horns via illegal means, was arrested on Friday morning in front of the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court.
The accused, wearing a white collared shirt and black formal pants, exited the court building cuffed hand and foot.
The arrest formed part of an operation led by the Hawks, who pounced on the alleged gang boss and nine other syndicate members simultaneously in various parts of the country during an arrest mission.
The alleged head of the syndicate was nabbed in front of court as he was due to appear on charges of illegal possession of scheduled substances and firearms.
The Citizen learnt that among the members arrested is the alleged right-hand-man, a Warrant Officer for the Organised Crime Unit in Pretoria, as well as the alleged kingpin’s wife, attorney, brother, a pilot and a professional poacher.
Nine of members of the syndicate were arrested, while one of the members handed himself over to police.
The arrest follows a year-long, prosecutorially guided investigation led by the Hawks, which has resulted in the arrest of these suspects.
The syndicate is believed to be responsible for the brutal slaughter and mutilation of 24 rhino, including a pregnant cow and a small calf, in state and privately owned reserves around the country between June 2008 and June 2012.
Of the poached rhino, 22 were darted with a potent drug, known as M99, used by poachers to knock out rhinos. The other two rhino were shot with a firearm.
Only two of the poached rhino survived the attacks.
The syndicate operated in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
It is understood that the syndicate’s main aim was to acquire as many rhino horns as possible for sale to the Eastern black market, specifically Vietnam.
The syndicate is alleged to have obtained up to 84 rhino horns by poaching rhino, as well as stealing the horns and obtaining them in other illegal ways: 41 of the horns were taken from 24 rhino that were poached; 14 horns were stolen – some taken from a government building in Giyani – and 29 were obtained by other means.
A conservative estimate of the value of the 84 horns is over R16 million, with the value of the 22 rhino that died from being around R5.5 million.
There are 318 charges that will be laid against the suspects, including various common law offences such as theft, fraud, malicious injury to property and attempting to defeat the ends of justice as well as statutory offences including racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy, incitement to commit crime, intimidation, killing and dehorning of rhino, the illegal possession, transporting and selling of rhino horns and illegal possession of firearms and scheduled substances.
Three of the arrested men, whose identities are known to The Citizen, have also been arrested and convicted of several crimes in the past.
The 10 suspects are expected to appear in Hatfield court in Pretoria on Monday. Video.