Rhino horn smuggler pleads guilty

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

JOHANNESBURG – Rhino horn smuggler Chumlong Lemtongthai on Monday pleaded guilty to abusing the permits system in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court.

Lemtongthai and five others were accused of being involved in an alleged syndicate, which used prostitutes to pose as trophy hunters.

In a dramatic twist on Monday, prosecutors withdrew charges against the remaining suspects.

Monday was supposed to mark the start of one of the country’s most high-profile rhino horn smuggling cases.

Investigators from the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and their witnesses arrived in court and appeared ready to testify.

But after lunch, prosecutor Alan Simpson made a bombshell announcement, telling the court all but one of the accused were being set free.

Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to around 25 of 80 charges.

He will be sentenced either on Monday or later this week.

Lemtongthai apologised to South Africa for his crimes, but cleared the game farm owners by saying they knew nothing about the fake hunters.

(Edited by Zethu Zulu)