Rhino poaching kingpin caught in dramatic set-up in KZN

2014-12-23 12:32
(Werner Beukes, Sapa)

(Werner Beukes, Sapa)

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Cape Town - A 45-year-old man allegedly involved in the intricate rhino poaching 'epidemic' that has gripped South Africa and left it's rhino populations near extinction, has been caught and arrested in KwaZulu-Natal. The alleged criminal was shot during the arrest and is in a stable condition in hospital. 

The alleged kingpin's wife, as well as his second-in-command co-worker have also been arrested in a separate incident in Hluhluwe, reports the Sunday Tribune.  

Barend Lottering of Nyathi Anti-Poaching Unit told the Tribune that the arrest was made possible by use of a trap called a 'reverse sting', where police agents sell illicit goods to criminals. 

The arrest came after an 8-month intelligence-driven operation where police infiltrated the alleged kingpin's inner-circle using informer networks. 

Leading up to the arrest, crime intelligence officers from Pretoria posed as sellers and 'sold' over 5 horns on separate occasions to gain the kingpin's trust and work their way into his network. The bait horns used were supplied by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, reports Africa Geographic.

On Thursday 18 December, the double agent made the last 'sale'. He handed over a 5kg horn and received the money from the sale. Before the deal was over, however, a Special Task Team member jumped out of the boot of the agent’s car, reports IOL News.

The kingpin was stunned and attempted to disarm the Special Task member, but was arrested when back-up arrived. The alleged criminal was shot during this skirmish. 

Lottering says the arrests is a break-through because the arrested man is the leader of KZN’s biggest rhino-poaching syndicate. He says about 80% of the poached horns in this province go through his hands.

Although he claimed to be unemployed, the vehicles on his property, and the house he lives in, tells another story. His vehicles alone are valued at R3m. 

The alleged criminal is notorious with the police and special forces, who says that he has been arrested several times before, but was then 'let go' when dockets miraculously disappeared. Police are hoping that this will be his final arrest and that he will be sentenced for his crimes. 

The South African Police Service spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane issued an official statement confirming the arrest.

Africa Geographic published an excerpt which read, “On Thursday, at about 14:00, an operation was conducted in Manguzi by Durban Organised Crime assisted by the task force. Three suspects between 45 and 50 years old were arrested.

One of the suspects was shot and wounded while attempting to disarm a task force member’s gun. Dockets of conspiracy to deal in rhino horn, dealing in rhino horn, attempted murder, and resisting arrest were opened. Six vehicles were seized as they were suspected to be from the proceeds of crime.”

Two suspects appeared on Friday in the Ingwavuma Magistrate’s Court.

Earlier this month News24 reported that a father and son were among three Mozambicans who were jailed for 10 years for killing and removing the horns of a white rhino in the Kruger National Park.

January Ngobeni, aged 45, Phineas Mathebula, aged 51, and his son, Ezekiel, aged 22, from Massinga in Mozambique, were sentenced in the Nelspruit Regional Court.

The three were arrested by Kruger Park rangers on 15 August and found in possession of two white rhino horns, and a .45 magnum rifle and two live rounds of ammunition.

They pleaded guilty to entering South Africa without valid documents, trespassing in the Kruger Park, illegal hunting, and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Read more on:    saps  |  durban  |  rhino poaching

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