'These are the guys making millions' - Hawks after busting alleged rhino horn syndicate

2018-09-19 15:48
The Hawks (Gallo Images)

The Hawks (Gallo Images)

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Six members of a suspected rhino horn trafficking syndicate, that allegedly ran its own intelligence operation with at least two police officers in its ranks, have been arrested in Mpumalanga, the Hawks said on Wednesday.

"These are the guys who organised the snipers. These are the guys who were making millions," spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said before the six appeared in court on Wednesday.

He said luxury vehicles, motorbikes and trucks, trailers, generators and other items and equipment worth millions of rands were seized during a multi-agency swoop on Tuesday.

It is alleged that the syndicate operated with almost military precision around the Kruger National Park, as well as private and state-owned reserves in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

They allegedly moved around areas such as Cork, Belfast, Mkhuhlu, Calcutta and the Shabalala Trust, mostly around the Hazyview and Mbombela magisterial districts in Mpumalanga.

Officials believe the group's members, aged between 30 and 56, included two syndicate leaders and one "right-hand man", along with the two police officers and a former policeman.

'Corrupt police officials'

They are expected to appear in the White River Magistrate's Court on Wednesday afternoon.

They will face charges of theft, conspiracy to commit a crime, illegal buying and selling of rhino horns, corruption and money laundering. The two police officers will also face an internal disciplinary inquiry.

The operation was conducted by the Hawks, with support from Counter Intelligence, the Special Task Force, the SA Police Service's forensic science service, SA National Parks, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the SA Revenue Service (Sars), customs officials, and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Mulaudzi said the Wildlife Trafficking Section of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) had been watching the group's "criminal supply chain" since January 2018 as part of "Project Broadbill".

The DPCI is otherwise known as the Hawks and is a division of the police.

Also allegedly found during the raid were animal skins, stolen items, electronic equipment and cash.

"The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms," Mulaudzi said.

'Paramilitary' discipline

Conducting their business with "paramilitary" discipline, they allegedly moved rhino horns from protected areas through a logistical, communication and sales network that included government officials so that they could stay undetected.

The horns were allegedly sold at the highest price to markets in Gauteng and distributed to south-east Asian markets.

Mulaudzi said further investigations continued.

He conveyed DPCI national head Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya's commendations to the team which collaborated to bring in the suspects.

"We have often been seized with picking up the remains of endangered species and not finding and arresting the poachers and traffickers behind the crime," said Lebeya.

"The operation spells hope for rhino and other endangered species and we are fully committed to eradicating poaching and trafficking."

Read more on:    saps  |  npa  |  sars  |  hawks  |  mbombela  |  crime  |  corruption  |  poaching

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