Organising Against Organised Rhino Poaching

24th May 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

The African continent has experienced a general increase in rhino poaching in recent years. In South Africa, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) sources indicate that a total of 122 rhinos were killed and dehorned. So far 80 rhinos have already been killed this year. In the first two weeks of the year, seven rhinos were killed in the North West Province and an equal number in the Kruger National Park.

The alarming spike in rhino poaching has been attributed amongst other things to the growing sophistication of the criminal syndicates involved in these activities. In other words organised crime has gained a foothold in this illegal activity. In his 2008 article "Tip of the Horn", Ian Michlers details the various role players involved in the complicated killing and dehorning of rhinos, trafficking of the horns and facilitating of the trade. Syndicates have been set up as a result of the highly lucrative nature of the trade. Whilst prices vary, they can be as high as R19 000 per kg of rhino horn. Law enforcement in the Southern African region is faced with the mammoth task of keeping tabs on highly organised and sophisticated criminal syndicates with trans-continental connections. South Africa's law enforcement architecture proved recently that, with better and more effective organization, these criminal syndicates can be successfully confronted.

An intensive joint operation involving the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation, a unit of the South Africa Police Service (which is often referred to as ‘the Hawks'), and two divisions of the National Prosecuting Authority, namely the Organised Crime Prosecution Division and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), resulted in the arrest of several members of a poaching syndicate. The AFU has managed to get R45 million worth of assets belonging to the syndicate frozen. The syndicate is implicated in offences committed between December 2005 and August 2006. Within this time 17 rhinos were killed and their horns cut off in the Kruger National Park, the Mfolozi National Park and game farms in the Bela Bela and Komatipoort districts. According to the NPA: "................the accused committed these offences as members of a group consisting of hunters, a pilot, middlemen (agents) and buyers, who illegally hunted rhinos and traded in the horns stolen from the rhino carcasses."

An investigation by the Hawks led to the arrest of George Clayton Fletcher, Gerhardus Bartlomeus Saaiman, Frans Andries van Deventer, Kumaran Moodley and five others. Their criminal trial is scheduled to start in the North Gauteng High Court on 11 October 2010. Three other accused, Nicolaas Barend van Deventer, Gideon Gerhardus van Deventer and Pieter Johannes Swart have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their involvement in the illegal actions of this group. The accused face charges of racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of various provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act. These charges were put together on account of good work by the National Prosecuting Authority's Organised Crime Prosecution Division.

The assets belonging to the syndicate members were seized by the AFU in the first week of May, with the assistance of a Court appointed curator. The assets included George Clayton Fletchers' seven farms situated at Sandhurst Safaris in Tosca in the North West Province. Sandhurst Safaris is a popular game reserve for hunting established by George's late father Douglas Fletcher. The following day the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) confiscated a small Aerostar aeroplane alleged to have been used to transport the poachers to the game reserves, to spot the rhinos and transport their horns to Sandhurst Safaris. A helicopter also allegedly used by the syndicate is currently in Mozambique.

Not only did the syndicate members get arrested as a result of the collaborative investigation initiatives of the Hawks and the prosecution, but they have in addition lost assets used to commit the crimes, as well as some acquired as a result thereof. The co-operation among different law enforcement units and sharing of information raises hope that integrated responses to organized crime will soon be standard practice in the region. As has been said often enough, it will take organised policing to beat organised crime.

Written by: Mongi Henda, Intern: Organised Crime and Money Laundering Programme, ISS Cape Town