2 Chinese nationals appear in court on rhino horn charges

Ten rhino horns were concealed in baggage were removed from the cargo hold of an airliner bound for Istanbul, Turkey. (SAPS)
Ten rhino horns were concealed in baggage were removed from the cargo hold of an airliner bound for Istanbul, Turkey. (SAPS)

Johannesburg - Two Chinese nationals who were arrested for attempting to smuggle 10 rhino horns out of the country in violation of international laws, appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.

Bo Yong, 57, and Yue Sun, 35, were arrested at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday as the result of an intelligence tip-off, said SARS spokesperson Sandile Memela.

After re-examining two checked-in items of luggage that had been pre-loaded into the cargo hold of the airliner, South African Revenue Service (SARS) customs agents found four rhino horns in the one bag, and 6 more horns in the other.

The bags were identified as belonging to Yong and Sun, who were removed from the airliner and handed over to Hawks investigators.

Their flight was bound for Istanbul, however, their final destination is believed to have been Hong Kong.

The haul weighed 24.96kg, with an estimated value of R5m.

Both Yong and Sun were held custody pending a bail application hearing on June 20.

In two separate incidents at Hong Kong International Airport on Friday and Saturday last week, two individual Chinese nationals were intercepted and arrested by Hong Kong customs agents for illegal possession of 2.5kg and 10.5kg of rhino horns.

Both stashes of horns are believed to have originated from South Africa.

Conservationist opposed to the lifting of the moratorium have long warned authorities against opening a legal trade, saying the move would have unintended consequences and potentially fuel an illegal parallel market, without strict controls in place.

On April 5, South Africa’s domestic trade was officially reopened, sparking a frenzy to smuggle horns out of the country illegally.

The moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn which had been in force since 2009, was cancelled on a technicality that it had been enacted without following proper protocols and public consultation.

Internationally, the ban on commercial trade in rhino horn and other rhino parts remains in effect.

According to the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species, it is illegal to export rhino horn without a required CITES permit from the country of export.

One of the only ways a foreigner may own and export rhino horns is with a legal permit for a hunting trophy, issued by designated CITES officials in the country of origin.

Guidelines stipulate the trophy may only be shipped directly to the hunter’s place of permanent residence, and that the trophy must remain in that person’s possession, as a personal effect, and may not be traded or sold.

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