Highway rhino horn traffickers accuse police of extortion

Highway rhino horn traffickers accuse police of extortion

Two pedestrians arrested with rhino horn claim cops sought bribe. Tulani Ngwenya reports

POLICE who arrested two men carrying a rhino horn on an East Rand highway allegedly demanded R30,000 from the two men.

Such was the testimony of Rogerio Domingo Moaine, a 51-year-old Mozambican, in the Delmas Magistrate’s Court yesterday. (Wednesday, Nov 17)

Moiane was arrested alongside 55-year-old Clifford Mashego, on the R50 near Delmas on October 14.

A police statement released that day states: “A SAPS patrol noticed two men walking along the roadside with a large plastic container, wrapped with plastic bags and brown tape. On searching the plastic container, the police were surprised to find a large rhino horn. The two men were arrested.”

The rhino horn that the SAPS confiscated from Rogerio Domingo Moiane, 51, and Clifford Mashego, 55, while they were walking alongside the R50 near Witbank on October 14. Photo: Supplied by SAPS

They now face charges of illegal possession of a rhino horn and contravening the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA).

Police have advised Roving Reporters that Moiane and Mashego’s extortion claim is under investigation.  Delmas SAPS spokesperson, Captain Carla Hartley, said the bribery allegation came to light when investigating officers interviewed the two accused in custody.

“It’s a serious allegation. We are investigating it,” said Hartley.

Moiane and Mashego are both from the township of Ivory Park, near Tembisa in Gauteng province. It is a densely populated area, covering little more than nine square kilometres. It has more than 180,000 residents, mostly living in shacks and backyard structures. That amounts to about 20,000 people per square kilometre.

Ivory Park

Moiane was the first to take to the stand in his application for bail yesterday. He told Delmas magistrate, Manesa Zondo, that he works for a metrics company that has offices in China. He said he earned about R7,500 a month and does a lot of travelling across Africa and Asia.

He said he had eight children, but looked after only three of them, including a son in his last year of Civil Engineering studies at the University of Pretoria.

Moiane said he had lived in Ivory Park since 1997 on a property which he now owned. He told the court he had a passport and a permit to work in South Africa.

He has a pending case in Nelspruit for possession of a firearm. He was arrested in 2017 and is out on R5,000 bail for this case.

51-year-old Rogerio Domingo Moaine in the dock at Delmas Magistrate’s Court. Photo: Samora Mzizi

On his latest run-in with the law, Moiane said that soon after the arrest, the police officers – one woman and three men – tried to extort a bribe from him, demanding he call a colleague to bring them R30,000.

Grilled

Under cross examination, state prosecutor, Gustav Schultz, grilled Moaine about his account of the alleged  bribery incident, challenging various aspects of his original testimony. Moiane had told the court that he and Mashego were not walking on the side of the road when arrested, but travelling in a white Isuzu bakkie with two others to Mozambique.

He alleged that four police officers, one woman and three men, stopped the vehicle, and demanded money. After refusing, they were taken into police custody, but did not proceed to Delmas police station. Instead, the police made two stops – the first one at ‘Pretoria four ways’ intersection near Delmas Golf Course, and then at a local KFC close to Delmas police station. He claimed that each time they stopped, the police asked for money, and finally searched the vehicle leading to the discovery of the rhino horn.

Schultz  told Moaine that automatic vehicle locating (AVL) reports would prove that he was lying. AVL systems are designed for surveillance operations that enable law enforcement to track and monitor the movement of vehicles, including  location, speed, and stops, by obtaining data from global positioning system (GPS) satellites.

He disclosed that Moiane had travelled to China, Australia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, eSwatini, Mauritius, Uganda and Zambia, and produced a picture of rhino horn obtained from Moaine’s phone.

The hearing continues on 29 November. – Additional reporting, Fred Kockott

A police officer escorts Clifford Mashego down to holding cells at the Delmas Magistrate’s Court after yesterday’s court hearing. The case resumes on November 29. Photo: Samora Mzizi

Rhino poaching statistics

During the first six months of this year, 249 rhinos were poached in South Africa, according to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.
More than half of these rhinos were in the Kruger National Park.
One hundred and twenty-five people have been arrested for rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking across the country. And 40 alleged poachers were arrested within the park over the same period.
Numerous confiscations of rhino horn have also taken place since January within the country, including at OR Tambo International Airport.
A total of 14 cases have reached verdict since the start of the year, representing a 93% conviction rate. Twenty poachers were convicted, the department said in a statement to mark World Ranger Day (July 31).
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife confirmed that as of 3 November, 80 rhino had been poached in public and private parks in KwaZulu-Natal. The figure stood at 88 at the same time last year. – Roving Reporters

  • Tulani Ngwenya is the editor of Highveld Chronicle in Delmas. He is enrolled on the Khetha Journalism Project.  The joint WWF-SA, WESSA and Roving Reporters  initiative assists journalists in reporting on the complexities of illegal wildlife trade in and around the Greater Kruger National Park. 

FEATURED IMAGE

Rogerio Domingo Moaine, 51, (left) and Clifford Mashego, 55,  51, appeared in the Delmas Magistrate’s Court yesterday (Wednesday, Nov 17) for their first day of their bail application. Photo: Samora Mzizi

This story is free to republish provided you use the full article without editing the copy and include this credit: First published by Roving Reporters at the end of the story.

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