Rhino owners 'stunned', angry after alleged poaching gang gets bail
Simon Bloch, News24 Correspondent
Hoedspruit - The decision by the Hoedspruit Magistrate's Court on Wednesday to release three rhino poaching suspects on bail - without the prosecution calling on investigators to testify and submit aggravating evidence - has left police detectives and rhino owners outraged.
It was the second time in a month that the trio, known as the Ndlovu Gang, have been released on bail, despite concerted efforts by law enforcement investigators to keep them behind bars.
Zimbabwean nationals - Jabulani Ndlovu, 39, Forget Ndlovu, 36 - and South African Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu 37, were each released on R5 000 bail.
Investigating officers from two provinces, who were subpoenaed to attend the bail hearing, reacted in disbelief and anger after they were not called by the prosecution to testify and give evidence.
The security boss at the upmarket Hoedspruit private game reserve that lost rhino to poaching in 2015 and 2016, told News24 that he would be objecting directly to National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams in writing.
'Courtroom was completely stunned'
The Eastern Cape’s main investigator from the Endangered Species Unit, who cracked the case that led to the arrests, had travelled from the Eastern Cape to Hoedspruit to testify, but, without any warning, was not called to the stand by the State prosecutor.
However, according to a News24’s source, the defendants’ legal representative, Marius van Wyngardt, was given the opportunity to submit statements and argue in support of their release.
Speaking to News24 on condition of anonymity, he said: "The courtroom was completely stunned by the decision. We were caught completely off guard when the state prosecutor failed to give the police investigators their day in court."
In June 2016, the trio were caught red-handed at a Grahamstown resort with a freshly-harvested horn of a white rhino bull worth R1.2m, a darting rifle and drugs used to dart animals, various darts, saws and knives, camping gear and rations, two rental cars, and a number of cellphones.
It was through this evidence and other links that investigators believe they were able to crack the massive case, which they are sure connects the Ndlovus to more than 60 cases of rhino poaching around the country.
All three had made several trips to Zimbabwe in recent years.
Lethal drug M99 used
Two weeks after they were released on bail in Grahamstown last month, detectives secured a fresh warrant from a Limpopo judge and re-arrested the Ndlovus for two cases of rhino poaching at a private game reserve outside Hoedspruit.
They were handcuffed as they exited the Grahamstown High Court, and transferred to Hoedspruit to face additional charges.
The dart gun seized from the trio on their arrest in Grahamstown had since been forensically-linked to several incidents in which the lethal drug M99 was used.
Jones also cried foul last month when Grahamstown High Court Judge JE Smith released the Ndlovus on R15 000 bail, overturning a magistrate’s earlier denial of bail due to the State’s "strong" prima facie case.http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/ ... l-20170519
A response to a written inquiry sent to the NPA had not been received before publication.http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/ ... l-20170622