Bail hearing for five rhino accused

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The bail application of a Makhanda (Grahamstown) paramedic and four other men arrested in the Free State on rhino-poaching charges will continue on Friday 8 February in the Magistrate’s Court in Makhanda. The men were arrested on 30 December in possession of two rhino horns. Microchips in the horns linked them to a black rhino in the Great Fish River reserve whose carcass was found there the next day. On Thursday 7 February the men began their bail application. It was their fourth appearance.

Counsel for the local man is *Declan Williamson. Charles Stamper, from Legal Aid, is representing the other four accused. A Tsonga interpreter was in court today for the second accused, who is a Mozambican national.

Williamson presented Magistrate Ntsoki Moni with strong arguments in favour of bail for the first accused. The man would be pleading not guilty, Williams said. His family and business commitments meant that four school-going children, an adult child in a tertiary institution and an elderly mother, along with his wife were dependent on him as the primary breadwinner. The income of two employees in a business he owned would also be threatened. In addition, being absent without leave from work would have serious consequences with his employer. All these commitments, Williams argued, were an indication of stability.

The second accused was questioned extensively by Senior State Advocate Buks Coetzee, for prosecutor in the case, Nevadia Adriaan-Daniels. With the assistance of the Tsonga interpreter, Coetzee questioned the man about his version of events, namely that he had been getting a lift to Tembisa in Joburg with the first accused, and knew nothing of the second vehicle travelling on the same route at the same time.

It became clear that there might be areas in the man’s statements that appeared to be inconsistent and Moni called for an adjournment to ensure all the men were thoroughly apprised of their rights. “Anything you say here may be used in evidence against you in trial,” Ntsoki said, warning them against self-incrimination, before the adjournment.

On their return, Coetzee asked questions about inconsistencies between the second accused’s account of events, and evidence that would be brought to court in the trial. Cellphone records and items seized by the police would be among the evidence used to argue a link between the vehicles, two rhino horns found in one of them and a rhino-poaching incident in the Great Fish River Reserve, Coetzee said.

The men were arrested in a roadblock in Ventersburg, 150km north of Bloemfontein, on the morning of 30 December 2018. Their bail hearing continues in the Magistrate’s Court on Friday 8 February. Grocott’s Mail hasn’t identified the men because they haven’t yet pleaded.

* Counsel for the first accused was previously incorrectly referred to as Basil Williams. The reporter apologises for the error.

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