Hawks, Sars net trafficking 'kingpin'

2011-07-10 22:44

Johannesburg - An alleged kingpin in an international wildlife trafficking syndicate which has been linked to illegal trade in rhino horn and lion bones is expected to appear in court on Monday.

The arrest of 43-year-old Chumlong Lemtongthai, a Thai national, is the culmination of a year-long investigation led by the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

Media24 Investigations has established that forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan - the man who blew the lid on former police chief Jackie Selebi - provided crucial information about the syndicate to police and a wildlife NGO.

O’Sullivan, who had also been investigating the syndicate’s activities since last year, did not want to comment when contacted. “There is an investigation which has still to be completed,” he said.

Members of the Hawks swooped on a house in Edenvale, east of Johannesburg early on Saturday morning and arrested Lemtongthai just hours before he was due to fly out of the country. It was the second raid on the house in less than a month.

In a statement, Sars spokesperson Anton Fisher said: “The suspect allegedly obtained rhino hunting permits under false pretences in terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

“Such permits issued under Cites are specifically for trophy hunting and not for the illicit trade in rhino horn.

“It is alleged that once the animals were killed on supposed trophy hunting trips to South Africa, the rhino horns were sent abroad by the suspect who paid on average about R65 000 a kg for the rhino horn.”

Thai 'hunters'

At the house in a quiet, gated Edenvale suburb, police also found five Thai “hunters”. The men, who claimed not to be able to speak English, had recently returned from North West province where they are believed to have shot at least five rhino.

The group, accompanied by Lemtongthai, had arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on June 13. There, Sars agents and customs officials briefly detained Lemtongthai and confiscated his laptop, cellphone, an order form for 50 rhino horns and other documents.

After questioning, he was allowed to leave and the laptop and cellphone were returned to him a few days later.

The day of their arrival, Sars investigators and members of the Hawks also swooped on the Edenvale house where they arrested two Thai businessmen, Punpitak Chunchom, 44, and 31-year-old Phichet Thongpai, for the illegal possession of lion bones.

Both pleaded guilty last week in the Germiston Regional Court and admitted not having the requisite permit to possess the lion teeth and claws found in a rolled up package in one of their bags.

They were fined R10 000. A further fine of R100 000 or five years imprisonment was wholly suspended for five years.

Chunchom is believed to be a director of the Xaysavang Trading Export-Import Company, which is based in Laos, a tiny country of 6.8 million, which is bordered by China, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The company has gained notoriety in wildlife circles for their involvement in trading animals and animal products.


In a statement, Thongpai claimed to be a photographer who had been employed in South Africa to photograph lion bones that were being offered for sale. The pictures would be e-mailed back to the head office in Laos where a decision would be taken on whether to buy the lion bones or not.

Thongpai said the company mainly dealt in lion bones. Both men claimed they were paid R5 000 a month.

Informed sources say Chunchom has been linked to various rhino hunts. In September 2008, he and four other suspects were arrested in Middelburg in Mpumalanga after they offered an undercover policeman $60 000 for three rhino horns.

The case against Chunchom and two other suspects was later withdrawn.

Lemtongthai is apparently a key figure in Xaysavang’s operations. According to Fisher, he will stand trial on charges involving “violations of the Customs and Excise Act, specifically section 80 (1) which deals with the improper use of permits in respect of goods”.

Xaysavang’s tentacles are believed to extend as far afield as China, Thailand, Vietnam and parts of Africa.

In July 2009, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and customs officers discovered a shipment of 260kg elephant ivory and 18kg rhino horn at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.


The shipment was registered in the name of the Xaysavang Trading Export-Import Company and was destined for Laos.

The cargo had originated in Mozambique, but KWS director Julius Kipng’etich remarked at the time: “Since Mozambique has no rhinos and elephants we suspect the trophies were illegally poached from neighbouring countries and transported to Maputo by road.”

A Vietnamese journalist traced the company’s address to a hotel in the Bolikhmxay province in central Laos. In an interview with the reporter, the company’s owner, Vixay Keosavang said the company owned a 20ha farm where long-tailed macaques were bred for export to China.

Xaysavang primarily sells the monkeys to a Chinese laboratory for use in experiments.

Yolan Friedmann, CEO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said the arrest of Lemtongthai was significant in that “it means we are starting to get into the syndicates”.

“This is not the end of poaching because there are other syndicates we know of, but now we are seeing role players in syndicates being caught. Up until recently, most arrests were at the level of poachers.

“People keep saying, 'shoot poachers in the Kruger National Park', but that won't make a difference. What is crucial is to make inroads into syndicates.”

  • Eric West - 2011-07-10 23:06

    Jeez, this was on the news early this morning. Looks like News24 had a slow day. ;)

      tryanything - 2011-07-11 07:24

      We have let a lot of trash into the country

      NickArmstron - 2011-07-11 14:06

      Well done to SARS and the Hawks! It's the syndicates behind the poachers that need to be eradicated! Stop these murdering vermin from decimating our natural wildlife and endangered species! The poachers themselves should be shot on sight - no warning shots fired. Same as for the long-line fishing vessels that decimate sea life - and that cruelly hunt sharks and whales - simple - fire surface-to-surface missiles at them from naval vessels - no warning - just be gone... Secondly - educate the Asian market re rhino horn - or better still - can someone just let them know that no amount of rhino horn or elephant tusks are going increase their tiny p#nis size, nor make them more virile......

  • Liberty - 2011-07-11 00:38

    Feed him to the lions

      Tinkie - 2011-07-11 10:59

      No, just shoot and remove their horns with the same sense of compassion they have for these wonderful animals.

  • Lekker Jan - 2011-07-11 02:44

    “The suspect allegedly obtained rhino hunting permits..." So why does the government actually ever issue rhino hunting permits? Any corruption here?

      2c - 2011-07-11 08:46

      @ Lekker Jan, yes there is corruption......The Auditor General’s office estimates that at least six of 10 public servants hold private business interests. Almost 60% of national Members of Parliament have shares in companies and 45% hold directorships in private companies. When it comes to the Cabinet, around 42% of Zuma’s senior Ministers have outside business interests. And, until now, there have been no sanctions against ministers who have private companies that win State contracts

      PunkBuster - 2011-07-11 11:25

      The question that should be asked is why are hunting permits being issued when the hunted is an endangered species. Unacceptable.

      BOY30 - 2011-07-11 12:04

      @2c. Is it wrong when public servants have private business interest and declare them to their employer? I am just confused because it sounds like you say that is corruption.

  • Walter - 2011-07-11 06:30

    Whether Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese, they all come from the east. Special courts should be set up and the culprits tried immediately. With the R10 000.00 fine for the one guy and suspended sentence of R100000.00 or five years inside is absolutely laughable. The man probably had that as small change in his pocket. A mandatory prison sentence of 10 years plus is the only way they're going to stop this destruction of our wild-life.

      Creeky - 2011-07-11 06:55

      Yep...@ $65 000/kg for the Rhino Horn, the R100k fine is SMALL CHANGE! Check their "DOCKETS" get bungled...and these cases get thrown out of court.... Will not be surprised!!!!

      Lekker Jan - 2011-07-11 08:59

      Yes, most of them come from the East, you know that place where most of the human race lives. However, who sells it to them???

  • pig - 2011-07-11 06:32

    why was the case withdrawn,after he tried to bribe a police man ???

      Lekker Jan - 2011-07-11 08:59

      Because he did bribe the policeman!

  • ariete - 2011-07-11 06:43

    Feed them to the wildlife they have been killing

  • Kathleen - 2011-07-11 06:57

    Perhaps he should have his p...s and his nose cut off in little pieces until he fingers the other syndicates.

  • Hein - 2011-07-11 07:00

    These people should be put in jail without an option of a fine. The other inmates should be briefed about their crimes and the doors locked and keys thrown away - let the inmates de-horn these shysters.

  • Kiljoy - 2011-07-11 07:21

    Question why are these f*$#ers allowed in our country in the first place,without their intentions being questioned ? & secondly why are we issuing permits to hunt an edangered species ??? I smell a bribe ...

      tryanything - 2011-07-11 07:27

      Like I said to Jan we have the best permits money can buy.

      Mike - 2011-07-11 10:32

      Well, you can't say much since the bad old apartheid days where this type of nonsense was not allowed - but of course we have to be pals with every Tom Dick . . . and Bob!

      ruffled - 2011-07-11 12:01

      Agree ! ... especially with rhinos being under stress ... but a typical local cultural approach ... use it up before anyone else grabs it ! ... damned idiots !!!

  • de Wet - 2011-07-11 07:31

    Cut off his "Horn" and leave him in the veld!!!

  • Crime Buster - 2011-07-11 07:47

    As a game farmer I nned to apply to shoot and transport warthog in fear of transferring desease into another province - this seems better controlled than the current system for Rhino. On Saturday at an auction of selected animals a Rhino could not fetch R120K - the farmers are too scared to even buy these animals as in the "audience" people are watching who buys Rhino to let their little (Thai?) friends know where to find one. Our soceity is really sick! It was heartbreaking to think that a Rhino could not be sold - this once proud animal. I say those found to have any unlawful intent shoudl go straight to jail - no option of a fine. Trust me our "jail system" will sort them out .... but then we have corrupt officials that will lose their dockets so they will be out soon. And my friends wonder why am I leaving this coutry ....

  • Sandy - 2011-07-11 08:08

    He's got the advantage of the gun when doing his poaching. Let him go face to face with the rhino with no weapons. If he manages to kill the rhin o with his bare hands then he can keep it !

  • cavan.warren - 2011-07-11 08:43

    let there be no let up on hammering the poachers on the ground-increase penalties! And at the same time carry on the good work in busting syndicates. The above mentioned fine of 10,000$ is a joke. 2 months salary? Almost stinks as though the courts are protecting the Thai nationals for reasons best known to themselves.

  • Anonymus - 2011-07-11 09:03

    who flung dung...

      Mike - 2011-07-11 10:33

      The one who wrote "Spots on the Wall"!

  • sl????? - 2011-07-11 09:08

    save the rhino - kill the thai.

  • susan.ettmayr - 2011-07-11 09:08

    At last cracking open the syndicates and as expected from the East and earmarked for the Asian market. Crack those syndicates now wide open boys and gals. Well done

  • Collitjies - 2011-07-11 10:27

    In the far East bribery as in SA is not a crime it is a business deal. Just remember the arms deal, nothing has come of that scam. In SA you cannot do business without some sort of a bribe, especially with the African Nasty Circus as it is par for the course.

  • Made_In_SA - 2011-07-11 10:37

    Funny how when one of our nationals or in fact any person gets nailed for drug running or being in possession of drugs in thai land or any of those dodgy yellow people type countries they get to sit in jail for life or are even executed but these little bastards can come poach and traffic our natural resources but they get nothing more than a slap on the wrist?

  • Andrew - 2011-07-11 10:59

    pull there teeth out and chop there hands off bunch f#$%% bastards. well done hawks!!!!

  • biskit - 2011-07-11 11:08

    Permit se Gat...we shouldn't be killing Rhino's they're endangered!!

  • Howard Kennedy - 2011-07-11 11:17

    Yes the syndicates need to be targeted but the fear of God has to be put into anyone considering poaching to make it more difficult for them to recruit poachers. Shoot to kill all poachers, chase the syndicates and give them serious jail time (minimum 10 years) instead of a paltry fine but the real problem is the stone-age superstitions of the Orientals. No Chinese investment should be allowed in Africa until they close down their tiger and rhino farms and even then it should only be accepted on condition that they spend the same amount educating their people to reduce the demand at source.

  • Sam - 2011-07-11 12:16

    These people should be given the death penalty. There are no valid excuses or exceptions for such a despicable trade. Without fear of the ultimate penalty this scurge will never stop.

  • Lyn - 2011-07-11 12:42

    Nail the bastards!

  • ZACKIE - 2011-07-11 13:28

    these thai poachers seem to have the upperhand against law and police on are they on their payroll

  • rhodgkiss - 2011-07-11 13:40

    Poach the poachers!

  • Dan - 2011-07-11 13:52

    I really think "most" easterners are not quite human. They are involved in all these kinda sick practices, raping the natural environment. Think of shark fins, dog meat, rhino horn, etc. Sick bastards.

  • Hope - 2011-07-11 13:56

    I'd love to de-horn the fracken idiots myself! Urgghhhh! Get the hell out of our country and leave our wildlife alone! It's not going to make your tiny penis grow any larger or cure your cancer!!

  • Pleurotus - 2011-07-11 15:07

    Ag sny asseblief hulle totties af!

  • smahlaba - 2011-07-11 15:16

    good work.

  • siviweviddosngcobondwana - 2011-07-11 16:15

    It seems as if the dissolution of the scorpions have cleared greener pastures for Paul O' Sullivan.if my memory serves correct I think it is the same O.Sullivan who led to the arrest Krejic who was suspected of ordering the death of Cryil Beeka.It is not that I am coplaining ,but it seems as if these hawks are too incompetent to gather criminal intelligence without O' Sullivan.

  • sabc10 - 2011-07-22 00:52

    He is not the kingpin...the kingpins are the SA poachers and game rangers Typical south africans always blaming other people for their woes... it originates from apartheid education.

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