Friday, November 9, 2012

Rhino Horn Trader jailed for 40 years

Sapa | 09 November, 2012 12:29 Members of Activists for Animals Africa hold up a poster at the trial of Chumlong Lemtongthai outside the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court. File picture. Image by: Daniel Born A Thai national who pled guilty to organising bogus trophy hunts to sell rhino horns on the international black market was sentenced to 40 years in a South African jail. RELATED NEWS Rhino poacher filmed in action State wants 260 years for man behind rhino killings Chumlong Lemtongthai received the unusually harsh sentence from a Johannesburg magistrate court amid a record number of rhino poaching deaths this year, government prosecutors said. Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to paying prostitutes who posed as hunters in order to harvest the horns, which were then sold on Asia's lucrative traditional medicine market. The group is thought to have netted around 26 rhino horns. In handing down the sentence, the judge said he did not want his grandchildren to grow up without being able to see rhinos, according to Eyewitness News. South African officials said 528 rhinos have been killed already this year, shattering previous records. National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Phindi Louw welcomed the ruling. "It will send a strong message that as South Africans, we will do everything in our power to preserve our heritage," she told AFP. "We believe it's an appropriate sentence that will be able to send a message that as a country we will never tolerate people who come in our country, unlawfully so, with the purpose of destroying our wildlife." Lemtongthai can now appeal his sentence. Environment Minister Edna Molewa had called for Lemtongthai to receive a "stricter sentence" than usual with the seeking a 260-year sentence. TIMES LIVE Conviction deals blow to rhino horn syndicate 09 NOV 2012 14:20 - FARANAAZ PARKER Law enforcement agencies have dealt a blow to a global smuggling ring, when a Thai national was sentenced to 40 years for smuggling rhino horn. SPECIAL FOCUS Rhino Wars: Defending the horn Rhino poaching OUR COVERAGE Deep in the trenches of the war on rhinos Rhino butchers caught on film at North West game farm 'Tiger man' Varty issues rhino horn challenge MORE COVERAGE Six rhinos killed for their horns in N West Molewa: Hunting brings much to South Africa's economy It was expected that Chumlong Lemtongthai would receive no more than 10 years in jail. But, days after Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa had called for a strict sentence to be imposed against him, Lemgtongthai was sentenced to 40 years in prison. His fellow accused did not share his fate though. Professional hunter Harry Claassens turned state's witness and charges were withdrawn against five other men involved in the poaching operation, including a farmer, two farm workers, and two other Thai men. Earlier this week, Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to smuggling rhino horn and admitted to using Thai prostitutes to pose as hunters in order to secure hunting. His group is believed to have facilitated the illegal export of 26 rhino horns from the country. Phindi Louw, South Gauteng regional spokesperson for the NPA, said the NPA felt the sentence was appropriate and would send a strong message that South Africa "will do everything in its power to preserve our heritage". Louw said that the charges against the five co-accused were withdrawn because of insufficient evidence. "As the NPA, we have a duty to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law," she said. "Going forward we will have to find ways, as the NPA and the justice cluster, to ensure that we have water tight cases whereby we are able to ensure successful prosecutions." Lemtongthai is a key figure in the so-called Xaysavang syndicate, an international wildlife outfit headquartered in Laos. He was arrested in 2012 by customs officials and the Hawks, a day before he was set to leave the country. Adrian Lackey, a spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service (Sars), said the revenue service welcomed the court's sentence. "It sets a very strong legal precedent for possible future prosecutions of this nature and also indicates the seriousness with which the courts interpret and implement legislation … to protect our natural resoruces, in particular rhinos," he said. Lackey said that financial investigations into one of the accused is ongoing from Sars, and may later form the basis for further litigation. The investigation had required the Hawks, Sars customs officials, the department of environmental affairs, Sanparks and the NPA to work together closely to find and present credible evidence before the courts, he said, paving the way for future collaborations. Investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer, who recently authored the book Killing for Profit: Exposing the illegal rhino horn trade, said the sentencing was significant as it would disrupt the activity of the syndicate that Lemtongthai is part of. Lemtongthai is the most senior figure in rhino horn trading ever convicted and sentenced in South African. "This is a syndicate with tentacles that reach Thailand, Laos and Vietnam," he said. "It will certainly have a disruptive effect." However, he added, it was only a matter of time before the syndicate finds other ways of getting their hands on rhino horn. The WWF applauded the work of law enforcement officials in security the arrest and conviction but said it was concerned that the charges against Lemtongthai's co-accused had been withdrawn without explanation. "Sadly, this does not send a similarly strong message regarding South Africa's attitude to the ongoing involvement of its own citizens in rhino crimes," it said in a statement. Dr Jo Shaw, rhino coordinator for WWF-SA, said the organisation hoped that the charges against the other men would be reinstated. Mail & Guardian - - - - - COMMENTS BY SONNY Lemthongthai SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE ONLY PERSON TO BE CONVICTED HERE. If it was not for the SA greedy traders then no Rhino's would be poached and killed for mere profit. The South African involved should all be thrown into a snake pit. What has Environment Minister Edna Molewa to say about our poisoned water on mines? Or is she more sympathetic towards the offenders there.

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