By Rhishja Cota-Larson
Two KwaZulu-Natal game farmers identified as Ewart Potgieter and Riaan Vermaak have been sentenced to prison by the Vryheid Regional Court in connection with their plan to kill rhinos. The pair was arrested during a successful undercover sting operation in which they hatched a scheme to kill rhinos at Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve. IOL.com reports that the sting was led by Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux of the Durban Organised Crime Unit.
Potgieter was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment — six years for conspiracy to hunt rhino and attempting to hunt rhino, 10 years for possession of illegal firearms and two years for possession of illegal ammunition. Vermaak received 10 years and six months — six years for for conspiracy to hunt rhino and attempting to hunt rhino, four years for possession of illegal firearms and six months for possession of illegal ammunition.
A court date is expected to be set today for their alleged accomplices, Dumisane and Mduduzi Sithole, who were game rangers at Mkuze Falls.
Not an isolated incident Last month, Thabazimbi game farmer Jacques (also referred to as Jan Karel Pieter) Els began serving his eight year prison sentence at Sinthumule-Kutama Maximum Prison after being convicted of illegal possession of 30 rhino horns.
R11 million (US $1.3 million) in assets — which Els is believed to have acquired through his criminal activities — were also seized in July 2012.
South African game farmer and safari operator Dawie Groenewald is expected to make another court appearance in October 2012. Groenewald, along with veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis, faces 1,872 charges ranging from illegal rhino hunting to racketeering, permit violations, illegal trade in rhino horn, money laundering, and violating the Biodiversity Act and the Act on the Prevention of Organised Crime.
Assets totaling R55 million (US $6.7 million) belonging to Groenewald, Toet and du Plessis — and acquired via criminal activities — were seized during a May 2012 raid.