The law enforcement team also seized an Astra revolver and a vehicle used in the commission of the alleged crime, following the men’s failed attempts to sell the horns
TWO MEN, who appeared in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on charges of illegal dealing in rhino horns, valued at R1.9 million, were granted bail of R50 000 each.
Matheus Willem Johannes Viljoen, 55, and Gerrit Michael Johannes Davies, 65 appeared in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on Friday. They are facing charges of illegal dealing in rhino horns and contravention of Section 57 of the National Environmental Management-Biodiversity (Nemba) Act 57 of 2009.
The men were arrested during an intelligence-driven operation led by the Hawk’s Serious Organised Crime Investigating team together with the SAPS Stock Theft unit and SANParks.
They were caught in possession of two rhino horns and five other smaller pieces valued at R1.9 million.
The law enforcement team also seized an Astra revolver and a vehicle used in the commission of the alleged crime, following the men’s failed attempts to sell the horns.
Their defence attorney, Riaan Bode, read out statements from the two men as part of their bail application on Friday.
According to his statement, Viljoen is from Christiana but is in the process of moving to George. He has no previous convictions and has already handed his passport over to the investigating officer.
Davis lives in Hoopstad and has previous convictions for drunk-driving, crimen injuria and reckless driving. He has also handed his passport over to the investigating officer.
Both men indicated that they were in a position to pay bail of R15 000 each.
The investigating officer testified that she had checked both of the accused’s given addresses and that she was in possession of their passports.
She stated that they had been arrested in an operation during which they had been caught selling rhino horns to a police agent. She added that the value of the rhino horns, set as R1.9 million, had been determined by a SANParks official in Bloemfontein.
The investigating officer pointed out that she did not foresee a problem with the accused being granted bail as their addresses had been confirmed, they had handed their passports in and the witnesses were police officials. She also accepted their statements that they could afford bail of R15 000.
While this figure was also accepted by the State prosecutor, who indicated that the State was not opposing bail, the magistrate pointed out that Viljoen was facing a schedule five offence, while Davis was facing a schedule six offence.
She added that the seriousness of the offence and the fact that the accused could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of R10 million needed to be taken into consideration.
“While the State is not opposing bail, I do not agree with the amount that has been suggested.”
“A bail application is not a trial and the accused are still innocent until proven guilty. The court must also take into account the prejudice that the accused might suffer if they are not released on bail.”
She stated that this was not a case often found on the court roll, but was a very serious offence. “In one case, a magistrate in Mpumalanga, when deciding on a similar bail application, stated that the charges were extremely serious in nature and pertained to the manner in which the country’s fauna and flora were unlawfully exploited and taken advantage of.”
She quoted him further as saying that the manner in which rhinos were poached in South Africa was, to say the least, shocking and that the court condemned the manner in which unscrupulous poachers destroyed the country’s precious fauna and flora. “The poaching of rhinos in South Africa has reached a critical level.”
The magistrate granted bail of R50 000 for each of the accused. Their passports will also remain in the possession of the investigating officer until the trial is over, they will have to inform the investigating officer if they leave the province where they reside and they will have to report to their nearest police station once a week.
The case was remanded until December for further investigation.