CAPE TOWN (Xinhua) – Six key syndicate members implicated in a massive trafficking of poached rhino horns have been arrested, police said on Wednesday.
The arrests were made on Tuesday in Mpumalanga Province by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, according to the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The suspects, aged between 30 and 56, include two alleged syndicate leaders, two police officers and a former cop, SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.
They appeared at the White River Magistrate’s Court in Mpumalanga on Wednesday afternoon, facing charges of theft, conspiracy to commit a crime, illegal buying and selling of rhino horns, corruption and money laundering, said Mr Mulaudzi.
The syndicate members allegedly ran poaching groups with the support of corrupt police officials as well as authorities from the private game farms, Mr Mulaudzi said.
The expeditious internal disciplinary processes are already underway for the arrested police officers, he said.
The logistical, transport and communication support of the criminal group was well managed and controlled and allegedly succeeded in moving rhino horns from the protected areas to places where the transactions would take place, Mr Mulaudzi disclosed.
The illegal transactions were also protected by alleged corrupt officials to ensure no detection from law enforcement, he said.
The significant breakthrough followed Project Broadbill, an investigative operation launched by the Hawks in January last year, Mr Mulaudzi said.
The operation focused on the criminal supply chain of poached rhinos within the Kruger National Park and other state-owned or private reserves in Kwazulu Natal and Gauteng provinces.
South Africa, home to about 90 percent of the world’s rhino population, bears the brunt of rhino poaching, losing 1,028 rhinos to poaching last year.