Prosecutors lose star witness in rhino poaching case

State prosecutors on Tuesday told the North Gauteng High Court their star witness in a rhino poaching...

Two more rhino were killed by poachers hours after a new committee was established to combat the problem. Picture: Supplied

State prosecutors on Tuesday told the North Gauteng High Court their star witness in a rhino poaching trial has refused to testify after being intimidated.<?xml:namespace prefix="o" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"?>

Gideon van Deventer entered into a plea bargain with the State after his 2006 arrest for being involved in an alleged rhino poaching syndicate.

He is serving an eight-year sentence but in August he told prosecutors he was no longer willing to testify.

Two weeks ago, he submitted an affidavit outlining how he and his family were being threatened.

Van Deventer said two private investigators have been visiting him in prison.

He said they offered him money not to testify and have threatened to hurt his ex-wife and his children.

When this statement was read to the court, the three men on trial, George Fletcher, Gerhardus Saaiman and Gideon’s own brother, Frans van Deventer, slumped in the dock, looking visibly uncomfortable.

A former investigating officer in the case also submitted a statement to the court, saying the same two private investigators also visited him.

They offered him money to change his testimony.

He, in turn, lay charged against them.

The case relates to a bust made by police late last year, which is linked to the slaughter of 17 rhino between 2005 and 2006.

On Monday, the fourth suspect Kumaran Moodaly had all charges dropped against him.

Nicolaas and Gerhardus van Deventer and Pieter Swart have already been convicted and will testify against the other accused, all of whom face charges of racketeering, money laundering, theft, malicious damage to property, contravening conservation and aviation acts.