Friday 27 November 2015

TANZANIA: Four Chinese Smugglers Appear In Court Over Sh900 Million Smuggled Rhino Horns

Four Chinese nationals who were arrested a fortnight ago with 11 rhino horns were yesterday charged in Mbeya with economic sabotage.

Mr Song Leo, 33, Xiao Shaodan, 29, Chen Jianlin, 34 and Hu Liang, 30, were arrested on November 16 at the Tanzania-Malawi border post of Kasumulu in Kyela District hiding the horns worth over Sh900 million in a car they were driving from Malawi.

At least 11 rhinos would have been killed to gather that number of horns seized with the Chinese. The haul is the largest ever in Tanzania's history of fighting poaching.

State lawyers Achiles Mulisa and Simon Wankyo told Mbeya Resident Magistrate's Court that the accused committed an economic sabotage offence and asked the court to deny them bail.

He alleged that the four conspired to smuggle the horns into Tanzania without a permit from authorities. They are also charged with organised crime including collecting and possessing government trophies without licencing from authorities, according to the prosecution. The case against the four Chinese, who have denied the charge, will be heard for two consecutive days starting today.

This came after Mr Mulisa informed the court that investigations into the case has been completed and asked resident Magistrate Michael Mteite to start hearing the case today.

Following the prayer, the lawyer defending the Chinese, Ladslaus Lwekaza asked the court to grant his clients bail, arguing that the offences they were facing were bailable under Tanzanian laws.

The argument was strongly opposed by Mr Mulisa and Wankyo who gave several reasons why the court should deny the accused bail.

They argued that Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had filed a certificate to ask the court not to grant bail to the accused due to the gravity of the offence and the fact that the defendants are not Tanzanian citizens.

Magistrate Mteite sided with prosecution to reject the bail application and the accused were remanded in custody.

The arrest of the rhino horn smugglers could be pointing to a resurgent of Chinese interest in a business that has proved lucrative for south-east Asian criminals.

Statistics shows that in the 1960s, there were roughly 100,000 black rhinos in Africa. By the time China imposed its ban on trade in 1993, those numbers had fallen as a result of rampant poaching to just over 2,000.

More than 4,000 rhino horns, about 12 tonnes worth, are believed to have been smuggled out of Africa between 2009 and 2012.

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