Court dismisses application to acquit suspected poachers

2015-05-05 20:27

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Mbombela - The Nelspruit Regional Court has dismissed an application to acquit three suspected rhino poachers who claimed they were framed.

The application by Sifiso Lephoko, 32, David Mawelele, 36, and Daniel Dlamini, 35, all from Matsulu near Mbombela, was rejected when they appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Tuesday.

The three were arrested on November 15 2009, after the shooting of three rhinos in the Kruger National Park. It is not clear whether the rhinos survived or died.

A .303 hunting rifle, live ammunition, an axe, a knife and a bag with a flower [muthi] were confiscated during their arrest.

Lephoko, Mawelele and Dlamini have pleaded not guilty to charges of trespassing, carrying out a restricted activity in the Kruger Park and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.

Each of the accused's defence had applied for their client's acquittal on all the charges, stating that the rifle was not the same one reportedly found in possession of the accused.

It was argued that the accused were given access to the park through an area accessible to the public of Matsulu C.

They further argued that a park employee had given them access so they could hunt animals for meat, not rhinos for their horns.

The court also heard that the rifle in question was planted by rangers, as the serial numbers on the photographed firearm differ from the one on the charge sheet.

State prosecutor Isabet Erwee told the court that the rangers gave detailed testimonies about the arrest of the three accused.

"The gate does not enable the public free entrance into the park. The witness who saw the three men after 04:30 on November 15 2009, was on a high point.

"It took the rangers two hours to trace and arrest them as the place is mountainous and full of loose rocks. The witness, after hearing a gunshot, saw one suspect running away from three rhino. The suspect was shooting at the rhino."

Erwee said the accused could not identify the ranger who gave them access to the park, but only gave a name of an unnamed ranger.

"The weapons found on their possession are the same ones usually carried by people to poach rhino,” she said.

Magistrate Nomaswazi Shabangu said the court had looked carefully into the defence's application before reaching a decision.

"The application is rejected by the court," Shabangu said.

Dlamini and Mawelele are currently serving time for other crimes while Lephoko is still out on bail. The case was postponed to May 12.

Read more on:    mbombela  |  rhino poaching  |  crime

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