By Nicolene Smalman
Pham’s trial was separated from that of his co-accused because he had pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him
MBOMBELA – D-day is approaching fast for alleged rhino kingpin Mr Joe Nyalungu (Big Joe) and his co-accused. One of them, a Vietnamese national by the name of Ngoc Cuong Pham, has already been fined R1 million and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for possession of and dealing in rhino horn.
Pham’s trial was separated from that of his co-accused because he had pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him. He was also found guilty of racketeering for which he was sentenced to another five years’ imprisonment, of which three were suspended for five years.
Pham was arrested in Bedfordview in May 2012 with 10 rhino horns in his possession, R4 million cash and an elephant tusk. Two of the horns were positively identified as those allegedly sold to Nyalungu during an undercover police operation in February that year. Pham’s wife, Ms Lan Anh Nguyen, was one of the co-accused. Nyalungu apparently sold the horns to her.
Nyalungu and the remaining 11 suspects would be trialed in Mhala Magistrate’s Court on November 14. Nyalungu had first been arrested on poaching-related charges on December 12, 2011. He and Const Conrad Nkuna who was stationed at Hazyview, were on their way back to Middelburg from Gauteng when they were pulled over by police. Officials found R3,2 million in cash in Nyalungu’s Range Rover, as well as a bag which contained the DNA of two white rhino males. It was later established that one of the DNA profiles matched that of a white rhino male that was poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP) on December 6, 2011.
Mr Elijah Ngobeni was arrested on December 20 for the poaching of the rhino in the Stolsnek area of Kruger. Nyalungu and Nguna were released on bail.
On February 27, 2012, police apparently sold two rhino horns to Nyalungu for R346 000 during an undercover operation. On March 2 that year they allegedly sold four horns to Nyalungu for R370 000 and he was re-arrested. Mr Timothy Ngcobe was also apprehended during this transaction.
Detectives went to Nyalungu’s home in Mkhuhlu where more than R5 million was seized. Various suspected stolen items were seized at his home and Messrs Happy Sello Zitha, David Lazarus Singanque, Calisto Joe Gulaigu Massoda, Zeka Fransisco Mindu Santos, Checo Someone Cassa and Sam Mashaba, who were present at these homes, were also detained.
Const Thabang Shakoane was stationed at Kaapmuiden police and was present during the second transaction in March 2012. He too had been arrested in September that year on rhino-poaching related charges.