Rhino hunter: I’m innocent

2010-08-16 00:00

FORMER professional hunter Geffert Pretorius of Mkuze, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to six charges, including fraud, for allowing a German client to pay R190 000 to shoot and kill a white rhino without a licence on November 21, 2000, now claims he is innocent.

Pretorius has lodged an appeal with the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

At his trial, Pretorius was sentenced to pay R520 000 both in fines and compensation to the rhino’s joint owners as well as the German client he defrauded, by May 1, 2005.

He was also sentenced to a total of six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years, and in addition his hunting licence was revoked and he was declared ineligible to obtain a licence for three years.

The rhino trophy resulting from the illegal hunt by German doctor Christian Schippers was declared forfeit to the KwaZulu-Natal authorities.

Pretorius admitted at the trial that he misrepresented to Schippers that he was the legal owner of the rhino and was authorised to sell or allow it to be hunted; and that he could guarantee Schippers ownership of the rhino trophy and facilitate exportation of the trophy to Germany. He also admitted violating five hunting regulations.

In an affidavit in support of his appeal, Pretorius maintains that he was incorrectly advised by his legal team — a senior and junior advocate and an instructing attorney — to plead guilty to some of the charges, including fraud.

He alleges he was unhappy about the plea, in particular to admitting he committed fraud. However, he claims he was “browbeaten” into going along with the “plea deal” after senior counsel threatened to withdraw from the case if he did not.

KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Herbert Msimang and Judge Shyam Gyanda have reserved judgment on the appeal.

Pretorius said that if he is granted a retrial, he will plead not guilty to all the charges.

He has reportedly paid the R520 000 into an attorney’s trust account pending the appeal’s outcome.

Evidence accepted at his 2004 trial in the regional court was that the rhino was jointly owned by U.S. attorney Eric Skrmetta and Tim Rudman of Bloemfontein, who had bought the animal on a Natal Parks Board auction.

In the affidavit, Pretorius now disputes that he was not the owner of the rhino.

He maintains a contractual agreement existed between him and Rudman in terms of which Pretorius had assumed ownership of the animal.

The rhino hunt took place at Nonile hunting concession owned by Pretorius and his father at Mkuze on November 21, 2000.

Skrmetta and Schippers both travelled to South Africa to attend Pretorius’s trial and testified that they were satisfied that justice had been done following his guilty plea.

The prosecution submitted that Pretorius’s actions brought South Africa into disrepute internationally.

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