The kingpins of the criminal organisation responsible for looting South Africa’s coast of 400 tonnes of abalone and shipping it to Hong Kong were sentenced in the Cape Town High Court on Monday.
The marathon case which has been running for 11 years came to an end with Judge Patrick Gamble handing down 15-year jail sentences to two of the accused‚ Adriaan Wildschutt and Tony Du Toit.
Willem van Rensburg was sentenced to 8 years in prison and Phillip Miller to four years while a fifth accused‚ Johannes Liebenberg‚ received a one-year suspended sentence.
But Van Rensburg‚ Wildschutt‚ and Du Toit were granted bail with strict conditions right after sentencing after they were also granted leave to appeal against their sentences at the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein.
Van Rensburg‚ Wildschutt‚ and Du Toit were found guilty of racketeering under the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act (POCA) for their roles in running the syndicate.
Gamble noted evidence by a Marine Coastal Management official that abalone can sell for as much as HK$3‚800 per catty (a unit of measurement equal to 604 metric grams) or R 5‚800 for 604 grams of abalone in Hong Kong’s street markets.
Several heavily armed members of the police’s tactical response team were present outside court for the duration of the sentencing.
National prosecuting authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said they welcomed the sentencing which sent a clear message to poachers.
“These accused did not only plunder our natural resources for themselves but they also started shipping the abalone to the Far East‚” he said.
“It shows that they were not amateurs as shipping material abroad‚ especially in large quantities‚ requires proper planning‚” said Ntabazalila.
He said that law enforcement agencies needed to be thanked for their “unwavering efforts” in poaching cases.
“They worked day and night and managed to turn around containers with abalone that were destined for Hong Kong. We need to congratulate the prosecutors‚ Advocate Jolou van der Merwe and Advocate Aradhana Heeramun‚ who worked through a complicated case for 11 long years‚ argued‚ secured convictions and long sentences‚” he said.
Ntabazalila said the state opposed the bail applications as it argued that the accused could flee “as they were convicted and sentenced people”.
Van Rensburg was released on bail of R50‚000‚ Wildschut on R30‚000‚ and Du Toit on R20‚000. All three have to report to police stations daily.
The case has been postponed to 16 April 2018.
At the same time another abalone syndicate consisting of 9 Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries anti-poaching officials and another 8 individuals‚ each representing a separate syndicate‚ appeared in the Cape Town District Court on multiple charges of poaching and racketeering.
The officials are thought to have aided and abetted poaching syndicates to evade law enforcement officials and to transport abalone to processing facilities.
Their case was postponed until April 10 for affidavits to be handed in.
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