The serial rhino poachers were eventually jailed, but the sentence is slammed ...

The serial rhino poachers were eventually jailed, but the sentence is slammed …

Branded as serial rhino poachers and repeat offenders with ties to the criminal underworld of the “Rhino horn Boer mafia”, Gideon (53) and Niklaas van Deventer (56) were sentenced Wednesday by the Giyani Magistrates’ Court to 44 and 54 years in prison, respectively.

However, as the sentences appear to have been tabulated as simultaneous, they will only serve 10 and 15 years each and may be eligible for parole after only half that time.

Prosecutor Norman Makuvele expressed disappointment at the sentences, saying they were too lenient considering the numerous crimes the brothers had been convicted of, the seriousness of the crimes and their previous convictions for poaching rhinos and illegal weapons.

“As the prosecutor working on the case, I am not satisfied with the sentences because the accused have been convicted of multiple offenses of rhino poaching, dealing and possession of rhino horns, in all 13 counts. Each count carries a 15-year sentence under LEMA Act 7 of 2003, and in addition the accused were convicted in 2007 in Bloemfontein for killing more than 10 rhinos and sentenced with much indulgence, “Makuvele said in a written statement to Daily Maverick.

The rhino horn that was thrown out the bakkie window as it was being chased at high speed by members of the SAPS Endangered Species Unit in 2017. (Photo: supplied)

According to Makuvele, SANParks senior investigator Mario Scholtz testified in aggravation of the sentence.

“It gave a perfect test. You talked about trade unions hunting rhinos and the smuggling of rhino horns. He spoke of the fact that the accused are actually hunters and traffickers. He talked about statistics of the exhaustion of the rhino population due to poaching, which has damaged reproduction rates. He talked about the economic impact of poaching on private game reserves and the impact of poaching on the tourism industry.

“The court said it also considered the fact that the defendants had already spent five years in custody waiting for their case to be finalized since they were arrested on 06/01/2017 until today, the day of the sentence”, Makuvele said.

And while the court did not rule when the two would be eligible for parole, Makuvele said the procedure at the correctional services meant that Gideon would be eligible after serving five years while Niklaas would be eligible after just over seven. .

The ruling follows a series of delays over the years, during which the brothers changed legal representation and eventually changed their guilty pleadings in early 2022.

“What’s shocking is that because they are repeat offenders, the court clearly didn’t give that aspect enough weight,” said a respected environmental attorney who asked not to be named.

“The sentences are supposed to have a deterrent effect and, in this case, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Consequently, the interest of the company and the gravity of these crimes do not seem to have been sufficiently taken into account “.

Both brothers they served their sentence in Kroonstad Prison for killing two rhinos in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal in 2006.

They were caught red-handed by police and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife officials just minutes after slaughtering the animals. They found four rhino horns, three illegal firearms and ammunition, knives and gloves used to remove the horns, two-way radios and various documents.

In 2007, Gideon and Niklaas were sentenced in a Free State court to 10 and five years, respectively, for poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn. Some of their sentences have been suspended.

In 2010, Gideon, who ultimately served five years of an eight-year sentence, demoted on a plea bargain to testify against a major rhino horn trade union, claiming intimidation and threats to his life. The union included well-known South African professional hunters and fitters.

The scene of the arrest of poachers in 2017. (Photo: supplied)

In the present case, a few days after the discovery of three poached carcasses around New Year 2017, Gideon, Niklaas and a Zimbabwean accomplice, Onward Muchagowa (39), were captured near Louis Trichardt by members of the endangered species of Limpopo following a suggestion – out that they had tried to sell rhino horns in the Makhado area.

A bag containing a plastic-wrapped horn was reportedly thrown out the window of their bakkie during a high-speed multi-vehicle chase, and later recovered by police.

Both Gideon and Niklaas testified during their bail requests that the rhino horn did not belong to them but to a person named Ruben. They said they intended to contact the police to provide information on Ruben so they could be registered as police informants.

In 2017, magistrate Bennie Smit denied them bail, saying he considered their previous sentences and was of the opinion that there was a possibility that the brothers would commit additional Schedule 1 offenses if they were released on bail.

According to an investigator working on the case, “the evidence against the accused was overwhelming”.

On Wednesday, magistrate Victor Mudau sentenced the brothers to conspiracy to poach rhinos, shoot a cow and her calf on a farm in Witpoort, illegally hunt a protected species (rhinoceros) of a rhinoceros in the Polokwane Game Reserve. , in December 2016, illegal possession and sale of rhino horn, possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, and illegal entry with a firearm into land where wild animals were found.

Both defendants were found unfit to possess a firearm.

Co-defendant Muchagowa’s trial will be held separately this month. He has not pleaded guilty. DM / OBP

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