Rhino poaching 'ringleader' loses bail appeal

2015-09-09 21:31
Hugo Ras  Photo: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

Hugo Ras Photo: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

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Pretoria - The alleged ringleader of a rhino poaching syndicate has lost his renewed bid for bail.

Judge Bert Bam in the High Court in Pretoria dismissed an appeal by Hugo Ras against a February ruling by a Pretoria magistrate that he was not entitled to bail.

The judge said he would give reasons for his ruling by the end of next week.

The safari company owner is one of a group of ten accused who were arrested in September last year in a countrywide operation by the Hawks.

Eight of his co-accused - including his wife Trudie, brother Anton, a warrant officer from the Hawks Willie Oosthuizen, attorney
Joseph Wilkinson, pilot Bonnie Steyn and the alleged main hunter Mandla Magagula - were earlier released on bail.

However, Ras and his brother-in-law Abraham Smit would remain in custody.

Smit is also wanted in the US on six charges of wire fraud. Ras faces 248 charges, including a charge of racketeering, the unlawful possession of scheduled medicine, the receipt of two elephant tusks and a large number of charges relating to rhino poaching.

Ras's advocate, Johan Le Grange, argued that the State's opposition to bail was based on an affidavit by investigating officer Colonel Johan Jooste, who relied on hearsay evidence that could not be tested in cross-examination.

Offered to 'take out' a female magistrate

He said Ras was never caught with rhino horn in his possession, there was no proof of any links with people from Eastern countries and no reliable evidence that he would flee or interfere with State witnesses.

He said it was significant that only one of the so-called Section 204 witnesses who were to testify against his client was in the witness protection programme.

Le Grange further argued that his client's previous convictions should not count against him.

Colonel Jooste said in an affidavit that he had evidence that Ras had threatened a person with assault, offered to "take out" a female magistrate of Pretoria North who presided in the 2011 bail hearing of a co-accused and told another witness he was going to kill her boss.

According to Jooste it was "general knowledge" in gang circles that Ras had instructed members of the Macks Gang to assault and intimidate people who were giving him trouble.

Colonel Jooste further stated that the wife of one of the Section 204 witnesses had seen a suspicious person with a pistol at their home. He said the witnesses were very scared because they knew what Ras was capable of. 

State advocate Joanie Spies argued that Ras had a long history of clashing with the law, even when he had already appeared in court and was out on bail.

She said Ras was convicted on no less than 20 charges between 2000 and 2009, including nature conservation charges, numerous charges involving illegal hunting and importing game, crimen injuria, assault and the possession of an unlicensed firearm.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  rhino poaching

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