Rhino kill: guilty plea voluntary, court finds

2010-09-13 00:00

HIGH Court judges have rejected claims by former professional hunter, Geffert Pretorius of Mkuze, that he was pressured by his legal team to plead guilty against his will to six charges arising from the illegal hunting of a white rhino by a German client in 2004.

The rhino was shot without a licence at the Nonile hunting concession — which was jointly owned by Pretorius and his father — at Mkuze on November 21, 2000.

In terms of a plea agreement between the state and defence at Pretorius’s trial in the Durban Regional Court, Pretorius pleaded guilty to six charges, including a charge of fraud for allowing the client to pay him R190 000 for the hunt knowing it was unlawful.

Regional magistrate, TW Levitt, sentenced Pretorius to pay a total of R520 000 in fines as well as compensation to the German client he defrauded (a doctor, Christian Schippers), and to the joint owners of the rhino ( attorney Eric Skrmetta from U.S. and Tim Rudman of Bloemfontein), who testified that they had bought the animal on a Natal Parks Board auction and arranged to leave it on Pretorius’s property.

Pretorius was also sentenced to a total of six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years, and had his hunting licence revoked for three years.

The rhino trophy resulting from the illegal hunt by German doctor Christian Schippers was declared forfeit to the KwaZulu-Natal authorities.

Pretorius admitted at the trial that he misrepresented to Schippers that he was the legal owner of the rhino and was authorised to sell or allow it to be hunted; and that he could guarantee Schippers ownership of the rhino trophy and facilitate exportation of the trophy to Germany.

He also admitted violating five hunting regulations.

Almost a year after his conviction and sentencing on October 12, 2005, Pretorius applied to the high court to review and set aside the proceedings on grounds that he had intended to plead not guilty to all 12 counts he was originally charged with.

He stated that undue pressure was placed on him by his defence team to plead guilty to some charges.

In a reserved judgment handed down on Friday, however, KwaZulu Natal Judge President Herbert Msimang with Judge Shyam Gyanda found it was not correct that Pretorius had been left with no choice by the senior advocate who advised him.

They found instead that his decision to plead guilty was “voluntarily and intelligently made” and that there was no irregularity in the conduct of the advocate concerned.

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