No mercy for rhino horn hunter

2012-11-10 00:00

ASIAN countries must get the message: rhinos are the pride of Africa and South Africa will not allow foreigners to wipe them out.

This was part of the message magistrate Prince Manyathi conveyed yesterday with a 40-year sentence he passed on Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai.

Lemtongthai, the head of a rhino horn syndicate, was arrested 15 months ago for manipulating the hunting permit system to kill rhinos, in part by hiring prostitutes to pose as hunters, using their passport numbers to apply for hunting and trophy export permits.

Twenty-six rhinos were killed under the scheme. Another 50 had been ordered, which were saved when Lemtongthai was arrested.

Lemtongthai was arrested with game farmer Marnus Steyl, Tool Sriton and Puntipak Chunchom.

Last Monday, before the start of the trial, Lemtongthai indicated he would plead guilty and the charges against the others were withdrawn.

In a plea statement, Lemtongthai claimed that the 26 rhinos were legally hunted and only certain export regulations were violated.

However, Manyathi rejected this, saying his actions were the same as poachers’. He had purposefully manipulated the permit system to sell the horns for a profit in Vietnam and Thailand.

He reminded Lemtongthai that he was a guest in South Africa.

Lemtongthai pleaded in mitigation of sentence that he doesn’t understand South African languages and the food in prison is “strange”, to which Manyathi said he was sorry for him.

On charges 1 to 26, the manipulation of hunting permits, he sentenced Lemtongthai to 10 years’ imprisonment. He divided charges 27 to 50, to do with the export of the horns and violations of the Biodiversity Act, into groups, and sentenced Lemtongthai to terms of 12, 12 and six years. None of the terms will run concurrently and none has the option of a fine. Lemtongthai must apply within 14 days if he wishes to seek leave to appeal the sentences.

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