Environmental affairs department welcomes arrest of rhino horn trafficking syndicate
The department of environmental affairs (DEA) welcomed the arrest of six men linked to an alleged “massive trafficking” syndicate of rhino horn from South African wildlife reserves to Asia.
Departmental spokesperson Albi Modise said: “We hope these arrests will have a serious impact on poaching within Mpumalanga‚ particularly the Kruger National Park and neighbouring towns‚ and the smuggling of rhino horn to Gauteng and the Far East.”
The suspects‚ aged between 30 and 56‚ include two alleged syndicate leaders‚ one right-hand man‚ two current police officers and a former cop. They were arrested on Tuesday in Mpumalanga by a high-level team tracking the criminal supply chain of poached rhinos within the Kruger National Park‚ KwaZulu-Natal‚ Gauteng and other private or state-owned reserves.
“The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms‚” Hawks spokesperson brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.
The police confiscated luxury vehicles‚ motorbikes‚ trucks‚ an undisclosed amount of money‚ animal skins‚ suspected stolen items‚ including trailers‚ generators and various electronic equipment‚ as well as properties during the raids.
The arrests were made by the Hawks supported by Counter Intelligence‚ Special Task Force‚ the police’s Forensic Science Service‚ SANParks‚ the Department of Environmental Affairs‚ Sars and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The suspects face charges of theft‚ corruption‚ money laundering‚ conspiracy to commit a crime‚ and the illegal buying and selling of rhino horns. Internal disciplinary processes are underway for the arrested police officers.
This follows the investigation dubbed “Project Broadbill” by the Hawk’s Wildlife Trafficking Section‚ which began in January last year.
The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms.
Mulaudzi said the areas in control of the alleged syndicate included traditional trust areas such as Cork‚ Belfast‚ Mkhuhlu‚ Calcutta and Shabalala Trust around the Hazyview and Mbombela magisterial districts in Mpumalanga.
He said their operations were well-planned and allegedly achieved with paramilitary discipline and counter-intelligence actions to prevent any exposure.
“The logistical‚ transport and communication support of the criminal group was also well managed and controlled and allegedly succeeded to move rhino horns from the protected areas to places where the transactions will take place. The illegal transactions were also protected by alleged corrupt officials to ensure no detection from law enforcement.”