Matabeleland North Correspondent
SEVEN Chinese nationals who are being accused of money laundering and possessing more than 20kg of rhino horn pieces with a combined value of close to $1 million will finally get to defend themselves after prosecutors set February 18 as trial date.
Zeng Dengui (35), Peicon Jang (35), Liu Cheng (23), Yu Xian (25), Yong Zhu (25), Chen Zhiangfu (30) and Qui Jinchang (29) 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.
They were charged 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”.
On Thursday prosecutors added a charge of money laundering in terms of Section 8(3) of the Money laundering and proceeds of crime Act: Chapter 9:23 which criminalises unlawfully acquiring, using or possessing property knowing or suspecting at the time of receipt that such property is the proceed of crime.
Trial on both crimes will kick off on February 18 at the regional court in Hwange, Victoria Falls magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa said while further remanding the group.
The seven are in custody.
Prosecuting Bhekie Tshabalala said the charge of money laundering emanates from that the rhino horn pieces found in possession of the group are not sold in any shop in the world.
He said the seven were found in possession of several pieces of rhino horns weighing 20,98kg and valued at $938 700 at house number 858 Aerodrome on December 23.
This was after police received a tip-off and raided the house after obtaining a search warrant from court.
A digital scale was also recovered.
Rhino horns are highly coveted in some Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where they have fetched up to $60 000 per kilogramme, for their supposed medicinal qualities.
The demand has fuelled a boom in poaching and trafficking in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In 2016, wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe said that they had begun dehorning the country’s 700 adult rhinos to curb rampant poaching, while some of the animals were moved to protected sanctuaries.
Givemore Mvhiringi is representing the accused.