Blood rhino poaching ‘blacklist’
Kingpin’s court case delayed 17 times
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.