By Matabeleland North Correspondent
A Hwange magistrate has said the seven Chinese nationals who are being accused of money laundering and possessing of more than 20kg of rhino horn pieces with a combined value of close to $1 million have a case to answer.
Collet Ncube was dismissing an application for discharge made by the group’s lawyer, Givemore Mvhiringi who argued that prosecutors had failed to show his clients’ link to the two crimes.
In a ruling on Thursday, Ncube said: “The accused have to be put to their defense”.
He deferred the matter to March 19 for defence case.
To prepare for the defence case, Mvhiringi has brought in a helper-lawyer Martin Chasakara to assist defend the accused while senior prosecutor Martha Cheda also brought in Hwange district head of prosecution Memory Munsaka.
Cheda is in charge of the province of Matabeleland North.
The trial of Zeng Dengui (35), Peicon Jang (35), Liu Cheng (23), Yu Xian (25), Yong Zhu (25), Chen Zhiangfu (30) and Qui Jinchang (29) started last week and state closed its case after inviting two witnesses.
The defence had made its application at the close of the State’s case.
The seven were arrested on December 23 after being found in possession of several pieces of rhino horns weighing 20,98kg.
The trophies, valued at $938 700, were found at a house where the seven rented in Aerodrome, Victoria Falls.
A digital scale was also recovered.
This followed a tip-off to the police who then raided the house after obtaining a search warrant from court.
Police charged them for allegedly contravening the Parks and Wildlife Act which criminalises “keeping, possessing, selling or disposing of any live specially protected animal, meat or trophy of any such animal”.
A charge of money laundering was later pressed.
Rhino horns are in huge demand in some Asian countries such as China and Vietnam where they have fetched up to $60 000 per kilogramme, for their supposed medicinal qualities.
This demand has fuelled a boom in poaching and trafficking in Africa, especially Zimbabwe and South Africa.
As a precautionary measure, Zimbabwe announced that it had started dehorning its 700 herd of rhinos three years ago. Some animals were also translocated to safer sanctuaries.