Top anti-poaching cop pulled from beat due to alleged 'murder conspiracy'

2017-06-01 22:44
Picture of dead rhino. (Supplied)

Picture of dead rhino. (Supplied)

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Durban - As rhino poaching reaches an unprecedented scale, it has emerged that KwaZulu-Natal's top "anti-poaching" cop has been kicking his heels in a city office after being pulled from the beat in 2015.

Since then, statistics suggest, there has been a marked increase in the number of rhino poached in the province - from 116 that year, to 162 in 2016 and this year, to date, 100.

Warrant Officer JP van Zyl-Roux, 47, has almost 30 years of service - the last 10 years in the Endangered Species Investigation Section of the Hawks, most of it as a "team leader" working undercover in game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal.

During that time, he and his team were responsible for apprehending about 70 rhino poachers, he has been given awards by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and he led a team which investigated an international syndicate, resulting in SA receiving a certificate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

In a no-holds-barred statement to News24 his lawyer, Jacques Botha, claimed Van Zyl-Roux is now being victimised and "this issue is rooted in the shooting of poachers purportedly linked to a very high-ranking ANC politician.

"I have seen some astounding abuses of power in my 20 years of practice, but this is the most gross abuse I have ever seen," Botha said.

READ: Rhino plot: farmers jailed

'Bizarre' charges

Van Zyl-Roux was taken off anti-poaching investigations because of allegations against him of possible criminal conduct involving a "murder conspiracy" in which alleged poachers were being shot dead.

Botha said the intended criminal charges were "utterly bizarre and ridiculous.

"The charges related to my client allegedly conspiring to kill rhino poachers, all of whom were actually shot by members of the Special Task Force while armed, resisting arrest and shooting back and in circumstances where they were caught red-handed in game reserves.

"Not a single one off the so-called conspirators - the actual shooters - were to be charged nor had any deposed to accomplice [State witness] statements.

"There was no case… my client did not shoot anyone dead. He once shot a gun out of the hand of one poacher and arrested the suspect," Botha said.

"I advised that we would not respond to the allegations until we had all the dockets… they had no answers to the point made as to the multitude of suspects arrested on the same operations [who were not shot] and who pleaded guilty in court or were otherwise convicted.

"The matter went nowhere and it appears there has been a decision not to prosecute."

READ: Increase in KZN rhino poaching

Hearing

In December 2016, Van Zyl-Roux was issued with a notice that he was being investigated internally and in March he was served with a notice to appear before a disciplinary inquiry.

The charges relate to allegations that he failed to hand over a docket to Anti-Corruption Unit investigators, that private firearms were found in his office and that through his conduct he had put the SAPS into "disrepute and embarrassment".

"This second round is a belated amateur effort at nailing my client about private firearms in his office," said Botha.

Botha said in terms of police regulations, if the allegations are considered "serious" - and a possible dismissible offence - a police officer may be represented by an attorney at the hearing.

But in spite of getting written permission to represent Van-Zyl Roux he was kicked out of the hearing after reading in his client's plea statement.

In it he denied all the allegations and claimed the charges arise out of an "ulterior motive on the part of certain elements with the ranks of employer (SAPS) of which the ultimate aim is to either terminate or curtail my issues with respect to anti-poaching and related corruption activities.

"The charges are fatally defective, vague and embarrassing. The factual nature of these charges is of a truly trivial nature.

"This entire prosecution is malicious and ought to be dismissed forthwith," the plea read.

'Poorly choreographed charade'

Botha said: "The plea caused immediate visible concern to the prosecutor and the trial officer, who both adjourned to conspire to get rid of me as fast as possible.

"They returned with a poorly choreographed charade, giving the game away when the trial officer immediately asked the prosecutor if he had any application to make. Without a second of deliberation, I was immediately released - I say fired - without being afforded an opportunity to respond.

"My client's allegations regarding a conspiracy were now substantiated, it was now so obvious. I placed it on record that I had obviously become a thorn in their sides; the conviction and dismissal of my client was now a foregone conclusion, they were a thinly-disguised tag-team to convict my client and evict him from the SAPS.

"I stated that my presence would have no impact on the outcome of the matter and I would rather help him when he appeals the outcome," Botha said.

Van Zyl-Roux declined to comment on the issue.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the matter was "one for employer and employee and not for public consumption".

Read more on:    police  |  hawks  |  durban  |  crime  |  rhino poaching  |  poaching

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