The trial of alleged multimillion-rand rhino poaching syndicate leader Hugo Ras and and his co-accused has been postponed for another year pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge to the regulations underpinning some of the charges.
A warrant was also authorised for the arrest of one of his co-accused, the syndicate’s alleged main hunter Mandla Magagula, but held over until the end of January next year, when he will have to appear in court or forfeit his bail.
Judge Pierre Rabie on Friday postponed the trial of Ras, a professional hunter of Potchefstroom, his wife Trudie, brother Anton, brother-in-law Arno Smith, former Hawks officer Willie Oosthuizen, former Pretoria attorney Joseph Wilkinson, game capture pilot Bonnie Steyn, Willie van Jaarsveld and Matthys Scheepers to the end of November next year.
This was pending the outcome of Wilkinson and Steyn’s constitutional challenge to the environmental regulations underpinning charges relating to the illegal possession, sale and transport of rhino horn.
The application, which was previously delayed after the Environmental Affairs department gave notice that it wanted to intervene in the application, will be heard in the High Court in Pretoria in February next year.
The group were arrested by the Hawks in 2014. They face a range of criminal charges centering around rhino poaching and the alleged theft and illegal possession, transport and sale of rhino horn. They also face charges of racketeering and money laundering.
The Judge granted an order relaxing the bail conditions of four of the accused and allowing Scheepers to fly within the borders of South Africa.
Wilkinson’s bail was on a previously occasion reduced from R100,000 to R25,000 and the court granted an order allowing him to apply for the renewal of his helicopter pilot’s license and to fly while applying for his license.
Prosecutor Joanie Spies told the court that Wilkinson had made representations about the charges to the NPA in March, which had been forwarded to the National Director of Public Prosecutions but to which no reply was ever received, with the office of the NDPP repeatedly claiming they had never received the application.
Judge Rabie said this was “absolute nonsense” and suggested that Spies or another member of the prosecuting team must get into their cars, drive to the NDPP’s office and personally hand over the application.
Spies, who said she found the situation “embarrassing”, assured the judge that this would be done.
The bail of all of the accused except Magagula was extended, including that of Ras, who was repeatedly refused bail but finally release on R25,000 bail in February following a successful bail appeal to the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein.