Suspected kingpin, 11 others in court for rhino poaching

Mbombela - The trial against suspected rhino poaching kingpin Joseph "Big Joe" Nyalunga and his 11 co-accused has been postponed to July 7.

Nyalunga, 48, a former policeman, and his co-accused were not asked to plead when they appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Wednesday. He was facing charges of illegal rhino hunting, dealing in and possession of rhino horn, racketeering, and money-laundering.

The four defence lawyers told the court they had not received their clients' case dockets. They said they would need time to study the dockets to prepare their defence.

Senior prosecutor Isbet Erwee said she would arrange for the dockets to be sent to the defence.

Erwee said she had arranged with the lawyers for the trial to be held on July 7 and 8. Magistrate Shelly Msibi postponed the case to July 7.

Nyalunga was arrested with one of his co-accused, Conrad Nkuna, 37, of Calcutta in Mpumalanga, in December 2011.

Police had received information that Nyalunga was on his way from Mpumalanga to Gauteng in a Range Rover loaded with rhino horns.

Nyalunga's lawyer told the court he had received results of the DNA tests done on the rhino horns the police had seized. The samples had been sent for DNA analysis at the police’s forensic science laboratory in Pretoria.

In November 2012, the High Court in Pretoria granted a preservation of property order in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. This allowed the Asset Forfeiture Unit to seize over R3 million in cash, and Nyalunga’s Range Rover and Toyota Fortuner.

Nyalunga's co-accused are Nkuna and four other South Africans, Happy Zitha, 37, from Calcutta, Lan Nguyen, 28, from Johannesburg, Tabang Shakwane, 37, from Kaapmuiden, and Elijah Ngubeni, 39, from Kabokweni.

All the South Africans were out on bail, including Nyalunga, who had to pay R30 000.

The six Mozambican accused are Timothy Mcube, 44, David Sigangwe, 29, Colisto Massada, 26, Zeka Santos, 31, Checo Cossa, 37, and Sam Mashaba, 23.

Cossa was the only Mozambican to be released on bail.

Another accused in the case had already been sentenced after pleading guilty to some of the charges. Vietnamese national Ngoc Cuong Pham was fined R1 million and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for possession of and dealing in rhino horn.

He was sentenced to another five years’ imprisonment, of which three were suspended for five years, for racketeering.

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