Heaviest yet: surprise and delight at term

2012-11-10 00:00

THE 40-year sentence, the heaviest yet in a rhino poaching case, was a huge surprise to those in the packed courtroom yesterday, and was widely welcomed.

Last Monday, when Chumlong Lemtongthai agreed to plead guilty, there was speculation at court that a plea agreement would see him sentenced to 15 years, with seven suspended.

Yesterday, the court listened rapt as magistrate Prince Manya-thi detailed Lemtongthai’s modus operandi, frequently emphasising his greed and disregard for the pride of South Africa, its rhinos.

A shaven-headed Lemtongthai stood and listened to the hour-long sentencing, even though he understands only a few words of English.

At the end, the interpreter simply told him how long he would have to serve, and he turned and left the court room without speaking to his legal team.

Manyathi said the interpreter might compile a written translation later.

A group of conservation activists present for the sentencing were initially speechless, before congratulating prosecutor Allen Simpson and members of the SA Revenue Service and the Hawks, who had worked on the case for months.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in a statement she hoped the sentence sent the message that South Africa was serious about fighting poaching.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said they hoped the heavy sentence would set a benchmark for future cases.

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