A KwaZulu-Natal man allegedly facilitating the sale of rhino horns to a multibillion-rand international syndicate has been arrested, along with six foreigners, during two sting operations.
Police seized 12 horns valued at more than R40 million, as well as elephant tusks and leopard skins, in two operations in Gauteng last week, both linked to a 40-year-old Zululand man.
He was arrested in the first sting, along with three Chinese nationals and a Malawian man, at a home in Florence Road, Bedfordview.
“(The KZN man) is the link between the poachers, the foreign nationals who prepare the horns for sale and the international buyers,” said a police source.
“He is from KwaZulu-Natal but has been living in Vosloorus for the past few months. He has been keeping a low profile.”
The arrests came in the wake of two more rhino killings in KZN last week. Wildlife authorities suspect the horns of the two poached white rhinos could have been bought by the suspects arrested in Gauteng.
The KZN man is facing at least seven counts of dealing in rhino horn. The police source said for each deal, he could have pocketed up to R300 000.
“The bigger the horn, the more money he made. In both these busts, the horns seized were massive. He would have made a fortune if the deal went through.”
Two horns weighing more than 10kg and two vehicles believed to have been used to transport the horns from KZN to Gauteng were seized.
Electronic scales, laptops, documents and files pertaining to the sale of rhino horn were also seized.
The horns were apparently destined for China.
The second bust was made at a R5 million home on the plush Midrand Golfing Estate.
Two Vietnamese nationals were arrested.
The suspects were allegedly caught red-handed cutting, weighing and packaging four horns for export. A further six horns, weighing more than 55kg, were found buried in the garden.
Two luxury vehicles – a Volvo and a Mercedes-Benz – were also seized.
The arrests were made by Warrant Officer Jean Pierre Roux, of the Durban Organised Crime Unit, the Crime Intelligence division of the SAPS and the police National Intervention Unit.
It came after a six-month covert operation in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that investigated the sale of rhino horns to international buyers. It involved the man arrested in the sting.
The source told the Daily News that, in both operations, the suspects were in the process of sawing the horns with bandsaws.
More arrests were imminent, the source said.
“This is a multibillion-rand syndicate. Information has it that millions and millions of rand’s worth of rhino horn have already been exported in recent months to China and Vietnam. They believe the rhino horns have huge medicinal value to treat cancer and other ailments.”
Five suspects appeared in the Germiston Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on charges of dealing in rhino horn. They were remanded in custody and the matter was adjourned to this Friday for a bail application.
Another two suspects appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Friday and are expected to make a bail application on Thursday. Bail will be opposed in both instances as all eight suspects are believed to be flight risks with big international connections.
The source said all the foreigners were in the country on holiday visas.
Meanwhile, the number of rhino killed in KZN has risen to 23, after the discovery of two dead white rhinos at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve on May 31.
The head of rhino poaching investigations for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Jabulani Ngubane, said a male and female rhino, valued at more than R500 000, had been shot for their horns.
“It is suspected the poachers gained entry into the reserve by scaling the fences. The carcasses were discovered on Thursday, but our investigations showed they had been killed at least five days earlier,” Ngubane said.
“We will conduct DNA analysis on the horns that were seized during the sting operation to see if it matches to the latest killing,” he said.