Rhino horn syndicate accused wins a round
LAWYERS for suspected rhino poaching kingpin Chumlong Lemtongthai will today ask for the case against him, and his four co-accused, to be thrown out of court on the grounds that a postponement of several months would be unreasonable.
This follows Lemtongthai's successful bid yesterday to have his guilty plea, and the admissions he made in court last year, disregarded.
Lemtongthai is believed to head a syndicate that used prostitutes posing as trophy hunters to get rhino-hunting permits.
About 26 rhinos are believed to have been shot on the strength of falsified hunting permits.
The horns are thought to have been sent to Laos by Lemtongthai.
Lemtongthai, Punpitak ChunChom, Tool Sriton, game farmer Marnus Steyl and professional hunter Harry Claassen face 52 charges, including fraud, in connection with alleged syndicate activities.
In August, Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to 10 of 52 charges in the belief that he would be fined.
Yesterday magistrate Prince Manyathi invalidated the guilty plea.
"He believed that if he pleaded guilty on 10 counts the case would be finished and he could go home. A plea made erroneously, as long as sentence has not been passed, can be changed," Manyathi ruled.
Melissa Weavind, a member of Activists for Animals Africa, said the change of plea was "neither here nor there".
"He remains in custody in South Africa where we hope he will receive the maximum prison sentence," said Weavind.
Defence lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said "he was elated" by the magistrate's ruling.