A Vietnamese citizen, Xuan Hoang, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, with no option of a fine. Magistrate Prince Manyathi convicted Hoang on seven counts of illegal possession of rhino horn in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 10 of 2004 as well as for fraud in terms of the Criminal Procedures Act 51 of 1977.
The police arrested him at O.R. Tambo International Airport on the 29th of March 2010, whilst in possession of 16 kilograms of rhino horn, representing four poached rhino and worth approximately R900 000.00. The South African Revenue Service officers assisting the Organised Crime Unit (HAWKS) as well as the Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) during the investigation of the case, believe that the street value was probably closer to R2 million.
Magistrate Manyathi said that he wanted to send a strong message to Vietnam with this sentence, as fines did not seem to be a deterrent to them.
He also stressed the fact that Xuan Hoang had travelled to South Africa specifically to commit a crime with self- enrichment as motivation without taking the effect of the damage into consideration.
This ten year penalty for possession of rhino horn sets a new precedent in the war against rhino poachers. In a previous case in the Bloemfontein Regional Court in 2009 a Vietnamese Citizen was convicted for the illegal possession of four rhino horns, but the penalty handed down was a R50 000.00 fine or 12 months imprisonment and a further two years suspended for five years.
These penalties are not a hindrance to poachers against the value of the horn on the black market and often the accused will be back to commit the same crimes.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) applauded the conviction. According to the EWT statement Vietnamese nationals have been involved in legal hunts of White Rhino as a means of acquiring rhino horn legally, when, in 2003, the first hunt took place and the horns were legally exported to Vietnam. Since then they have hunted several hundred white rhino with the assistance of a number of unscrupulous South African hunting outfitters and professional hunters.
A number of illegal hunts were also detected and during July 2006 a South African hunting outfitter and his wife were arrested for their part in the illegal hunting of four white rhino in the Limpopo province.
A taxidermist from Mosselbay, who organized the hunt on behalf of a kingpin in the Vietnamese smuggling syndicate, was also arrested in December 2003 and charged together with the hunting outfitter and his wife for illegal hunting and fraud. While under arrest and formally charged for illegal activities with rhino hunting and smuggling in Limpopo, the same outfitter was found guilty of illegal possession of two rhino horns in the Free State during 2007.
He was sentenced to R20, 000 or two years and the R180, 000 cash found in his vehicle at the time of arrest as well as the two rhino horns were forfeited to the State.
He was again apprehended for illegal possession and conveyance of four rhino horns in the Western Cape during 2009 where he entered into a plea agreement and was sentenced to a R50, 000 fine. This is a prime example of the ineffectiveness of inadequate sentences as a deterrent against serious environmental crime.
On national level, South Africa’s minister of environmental and water affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, established a National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit, which is an amalgamation of members of the Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMIs), the HAWKS, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Rhino Security Project.
They are mandated by the Minister of Environmental Affairs to focus on eradicating wildlife crimes and more specifically the rhino poaching syndicates.
The task facing the newly established National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit is a daunting one. Organised Environmental Crimes present many complications such as the use of silenced weapons, dart guns and lately helicopters for their poaching of rhino, but also in the past for removing cycads from their natural state.
The EWT’s Rhino Security Project is assisting private landowners to combat the threats from organised crime syndicates by establishing a functional communications early warning network, and establishing links with Aviation Clubs to assist with finding the helicopter pilots participating.