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Rhino horn worth R115m disguised as ‘fine art’ seized at OR Tambo airport

14 July 2020 - 18:53 By Naledi Shange
Rhino horn worth over R100m and other illicit goods were seized by custom officials at OR Tambo airport on Tuesday.
Rhino horn worth over R100m and other illicit goods were seized by custom officials at OR Tambo airport on Tuesday.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Customs officials on Tuesday discovered millions of rand worth of illicit items, including rhino horns, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

Among the items, which were destined for foreign markers, was rhino horn believed to be worth over R115m. The 41 pieces of horn were sniffed out by detector dogs, South African Revenue Service (Sars) customs officials reported.

“During an inspection of warehouses at ORTIA [on Tuesday], one of the customs teams, aided by detector dogs, detected and intervened to stop a  consignment of goods destined for Kuala Lumpur via Doha,” said Sars in a statement.

The items had been declared as “fine art”.

"[They] had been concealed in carbon paper and foil and wrapped in traditional material.”

The Hawks were alerted about the goods and a criminal case was registered.

A further search of the warehouse led to the discovery of abalone worth almost a R1m. Sars said it was “destined for Hong Kong”.

Also found in the warehouse goods was the drug ephedrine, which “had been hidden in two printer cartridges and [was] destined for Madagascar”. The drugs were estimated to have a value of R600,000.

Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter welcomed the discovery of the illicit goods.

“Criminal and illicit economic activities are rife and result in billions of rands of losses in tax and customs revenue to the fiscus. In addition, it does serious harm to our domestic economy,” he said.

“I am therefore very pleased with the success at [OR Tambo] by our customs officials. I wish to express sincere appreciation to our customs officers for this diligence in fighting these unacceptable criminal activities.”

Kieswetter warned criminals that their days were numbered.

“We are issuing a stern warning to those who are engaged in this criminal syndicated work that we will spare no effort in confronting and dealing with any criminal acts that threaten the wellbeing of our country and deprive our future generation from witnessing the beauty of nature as represented by our rhinoceros.

“We will not rest until all are caught.”