Rhino smuggling prostitutes case heads for trial
Charl du Plessis
Three alleged members of the rhino smuggling syndicate which involved Thai prostitutes were today handed the evidence against them in preparation for their trial in June.
Chumlong Lemtongthai (43) and Marnus Steyl (37), charged with contraventions of the Biodiversity Act and the Customs and Excise Act, appeared briefly in the Kempton Park Magistrates Court, where the police docket against them was handed over for their lawyers to begin preparing their defence.
Lemtongthai, a Thai national with alleged links to an international wildlife smuggling syndicate, was arrested in July last year while Steyl, a South African game farmer and lion breeder, handed himself over to police in November.
Lemtongthai allegedly used Thai sex workers in order to apply for rhino hunting permits, a front for the horns to be exported to the east. The rhino were allegedly supplied by Steyl and shot on his game farm.
The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species specifies that endangered wildlife, such as rhino, may only be hunted as legitimate trophies and that only one permit per hunter may be issued in a year.
The permit restriction meant it was necessary to use Thai sex workers to obtain permits, even though they rarely participated in the hunts.
The docket, the result of over a year’s joint investigation by the Hawks and the South African Revenue Service, contains photographic and documentary evidence relating to the 26 sets of rhino horn that the syndicate allegedly attempted to export.
Punpitak Chunchom, an alleged third member of the syndicate, is expected to turn state witness in the case.
Chunchom was booted out of the country and fined R10 000 in 2009, after pleading guilty to being in possession of lion bones without a permit.
He was re-arrested in November, when he attempted to re-enter the country.
A record 448 rhino were poached in South Africa last year, up from 13 in 2007.