Blood rhino poach­ing ‘black­list’

King­pin’s court case de­layed 17 times

Saturday Star - - NEWS -

wor­ried” as he “knew all the mag­is­trates and pros­e­cu­tors and they would win all the cases one way or an­other”.

Fresh’s ac­count is con­tained in a sworn af­fi­davit, re­leased by wildlife ac­tivist Jamie Joseph, who runs Sav­ing the Wild.

It de­tails how his rel­a­tive was al­legedly in­volved in pay­ing off “mag­is­trates and pros­e­cu­tors in Pon­gola and all over Zu­l­u­land”.

Joseph, who first be­gan ex­pos­ing the syn­di­cate last Jan­uary, re­leased it as part of her “blood rhino black­list”.

Last month, Gwala’s case – he is fac­ing 10 charges, along with his two co-ac­cused, re­lat­ing to the il­le­gal pur­chase and pos­ses­sion of rhino horn and re­sist­ing ar­rest – was post­poned again in the Ng­welezana Re­gional Court.

The case has now been post­poned at least 17 times and will now only go to trial in May, af­ter a new se­nior prose­cu­tor was ap­pointed. The trial has been de­layed by over three years, says Joseph.

Her sworn af­fi­davit doc­u­ments how af­ter Fresh made contact with her, she con­tacted se­nior ad­vo­cate Yuri Gan­gai – who has now re­port­edly been pulled from the case – who then in­structed the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer in the mat­ter, Detec- tive War­rant Of­fi­cer JP van Zyl Roux, of the or­gan­ised crime unit in Dur­ban, to ac­com­pany her to meet Fresh and an­other source. Poly­graph tests were con­ducted on both.

In his af­fi­davit, Fresh re­lated how, when the Gwala case was moved to Ng­welezane court, his un­cle al­legedly handed over the de­fence to an­other de­fence lawyer, Mpume Linda, but was still “how­ever, in­flu­enc­ing the case”.

“I was present when the mag­is­trate pre­sid­ing over the case at the Ng­welezane court ar­rived at my un­cle’s house in Pon­gola.

“Mpume Linda was present as well. They dis­cussed the case and it was agreed that Shandu (the mag­is­trate) pro­long the case un­til the State would make mis­takes and he could ac­quit Gwala.

“If it did not work out he would sen­tence Gwala to a light sen­tence of com­mu­nity ser­vice.

“I was given R3 000 to give to Shandu as an ini­tial pay­ment, so that he would not be too hard on Mpume Linda in court. Fur­ther pay­ments would be made if the case pro­ceeded.

“I did as in­structed, and handed the money over to mag­is­trate Shandu.”

Ad­vo­cate An­thony Mitchell, the lawyer for the IFP, said yes­ter­day that the mat­ter was “be­ing in­ves­ti­gated at the high­est level of jus­tice. I know the min­istry is look­ing into this and it is get­ting at­ten­tion. We will prob­a­bly lose a lot more rhino in the in­terim”.

Fresh’s af­fi­davit re­veals how he was in­structed by his un­cle to pay cash bribes to mag­is­trates and pros­e­cu­tors in Zu­l­u­land.

Joseph said this week that she, de­tec­tive Roux and an­other po­lice of­fi­cer in­ves­ti­gat­ing the syn­di­cate had been re­quested to write af­fi­davits in sup­port of Gan­gai’s ap­pli­ca­tion for the re­cusal of the mag­is­trate.

“On Oc­to­ber 6, we all made sworn po­lice af­fi­davits, signed and wit­nessed by a com­mis­sioner of oaths.

“On Oc­to­ber 7, Gan­gai called me to tell me I no longer needed to be at court as, in the fi­nal hour of Fri­day, he was bizarrely re­placed as the prose­cu­tor on the Gwala case.”

The re­cusal ap­pli­ca­tion was re­port­edly halted by the di­rec­tor of the NPA for KZN, Moipone Noko.

Gan­gai could not com­ment this week. “I’m not al­lowed to speak to the press. I’m deal­ing with this mat­ter in­ter­nally.”

Nei­ther the NPA nor the Depart­ment of Jus­tice re­sponded this week.

Van Zyl’s af­fi­davit de­tailed how Fresh’s af fi­davit and an­other source had re­vealed how “a cer­tain le­gal prac­ti­tioner was brib­ing court of­fi­cials to se­cure a favourable re­sult in cases where he was in­volved” in the Ing­wavuma, Pon­gola and Mtu­batuba re­gional courts.

There was a “strong sus­pi­cion the cur­rent pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer (would) be bi­ased in his han­dling of the mat­ter, par­tic­u­larly in grant­ing post­pone­ments on oc­ca­sions for the most friv­o­lous of rea­sons”.

Ear­lier this year, a WildAid report de­tail­ing South Africa’s fail­ure to pros­e­cute rhino- horn poach­ing mid­dle­men and king­pins had sin­gled out Gwala.

It said he was “re­ported to head up KwaZulu-Na­tal’s big­gest rhino crime syn­di­cate” with around 80% of rhino horns in the prov­ince “be­lieved to pass through his hands”.

* Not his real name.

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