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Hitches see rhino trial postponed

One of the country's most high-profile poaching trials was supposed to start this month.

Chumlong Lemtongthai and his accomplices Punpitak Chunchom and Marnus Steyl appear in court on 08 November 2011 after they were arrested for allegedly running a rhino poaching syndicate. Picture: Alex Eliseev/EWN
rhino horn,Edna Molewa,Chumlong Lemtongthai,Marnus Steyl,Harry Claassens,Alwyn Griebenow
Local


JOHANNESBURG - Lawyers in a rhino-horn smuggling case involving prostitutes posing as trophy hunters said on Thursday the trial that was meant to start in June may only get underway in November.

Delays in the case against Chumlong Lemtongthai and four of his co-accused range from an incompetent translator to applications for the case to be struck off the court roll and for the judge to recuse himself.

On Thursday, the court rejected both applications.

Lawyer Alwyn Griebenouw is confident they will be ready by the next appearance.

“There shouldn’t be any problem and we should be ready for the trial to commence on the 5 November.”

In May, professional hunter Harry Claassen was added as the fifth accused in the trial that also involves farmer Marnus Steyl.

One of the Thai nationals arrested in connection with syndicate was moved to a separate jail in April, ahead of his bail application.

This fuelled speculation that a plea bargain could be struck.

It was also not the first time the accused were split up, suggesting there may be a plan to help the state convict more senior members of the syndicate.

On Monday, the controversial peripheral development zone (PDZ) for the Kruger National Park was approved by Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

The PDZ is aimed at creating a conservation corridor between the park and Mozambique's Greater Lebombo Conservancy. It is hoped this will strengthen attempts at curbing rhino poaching.

Both government and non-governmental organisations have embarked on awareness campaigns to educate the public about rhino poaching.

High demand for rhino horn products in the Far East due to myths about its alleged medicinal uses, have seen the native animal slaughtered to near extinction in recent years.

The price of the horn has been estimated at more than R500,000/kg.

By June 2012, 245 rhino were killed.

(Edited by Clare Matthes)

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