Rhino plot: farmers jailed

2012-08-16 00:00

TWO cattle and game farmers, Ewart Potgieter (34), of Louwsburg, and Riaan Vermaak (32), of Newcastle, are going to jail for their role in a conspiracy to poach rhinos and related offences.

The two entered into plea and sentence agreements in the Vryheid Regional Court yesterday.

Potgieter, who played the major role in the conspiracy and supply of firearms, was sentenced to a total of 18 years’ imprisonment.

However, he will serve an effective jail term of six years after parts of the sentences were suspended and ordered to run concurrently.

Vermaak will serve an effective four years in jail out of the total sentence of 10 years and six months.

The accused were arrested in a police trap set by agents from the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit.

A plan was hatched with an agent known to the accused as “Johan” to hunt black or white rhino at Mkhuze Falls, a private game reserve near Pongola.

The pair said in statements they were assisted in their plans by a game ranger at the reserve, Dumisani Sithole, who is also an accused in the case.

The trap was sprung while the fence to the reserve was being cut to gain entry to the farm on the night of March 4, and the accused were arrested.

The personal circumstances of each accused were taken into account in determining a fair sentence. Aggravating features were that rhino poaching has reached epidemic proportions and that the accused decided to commit the offences simply for financial gain.

Regard was also given to the fact that no rhino was ever in actual danger of being killed or harmed.

The plea agreement was approved by the investigating officer, Warrant Officer J.P. van Zyl-Roux, and was negotiated by state advocate Yuri Gengai.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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