Poaching witness fears for safety of his family

13 October 2010 - 01:03 By JUDY LELLIOTT

The public gallery in the Pretoria High Court gasped yesterday when State prosecutor Hein van der Merwe revealed how his key witness, Gideon van Deventer, received several threats if he spilled the beans on a poaching syndicate.

Van der Merwe told Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi how three men claiming to work for a private investigation team visited Van Deventer five times in jail.

Van Deventer, serving a 10-year prison term, had two years suspended in return for testimony against his brother, Frans van Deventer, Sandhurst Safari owner George Fletcher and Gerhardus Saaiman, owner of Saaiman Hunting Safaris.

"The purpose of the visits was to convince him not to give evidence or contradict the state's case. In return he would receive financial benefit," said Van der Merwe.

The three men are accused of hunting rhino, dealing in their severed horns, racketeering, money laundering, theft and 45 other charges committed between December 2005 and August 2006.

Van der Merwe said that Van Deventer's ex-wife, Monique Viljoen , reported the claims to one of the investigating officers.

Viljoen, he said, told Captain Hendrik Daffue that her ex-husband "was unhappy to testify because he feared for her safety and the kids and that he was unduly influenced" not to testify against his brother.

Van der Merwe also revealed how on August 28 former investigating officer Pieter Swart was also approached by two men to "adjust his evidence. As a reward he'd receive a substantial amount of money [R300000]".

Police opened a corruption and defeating the end of justice investigation into the revelations.

On these merits, Van der Merwe requested Judge Mngqibisa-Thusi to postpone the case.

However, Advocate Terry Price, responsible for getting Paris Hilton off on dagga possession charges during the World Cup, objected to the postponement.

Calling the new information "red herrings" meant to "hold the state to ransom", Price, who is representing Fletcher, said: "The prosecution has not put an affidavit before you."

Sarel Wagener, defence advocate for Saaiman, said Van Deventer was a convicted criminal and a liar.

The state is arranging witness protection for Van Deventer's family.

Judge Mngqibisa-Thusi will decide on Friday whether to grant the postponement.