Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Zimbabwean poaching kingpin freed as police bungle case

A Harare businessman said to be the ringleader of a poaching syndicate was last Friday dragged to the courts on allegations of smuggling six ivory tusks stolen from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks). George Seremwe, 44, appeared before magistrate Elijah Makomo represented by lawyers Admire Rubaya and Oliver Marwa who contested his remand, arguing that their client was over-detained by the police. The attorneys said Seremwe was arrested on January 13 at around 5 am only to be brought to court after 48 hours had lapsed in violation of his constitutional rights. The investigating officer in the case admitted they had transport challenges and could not bring the suspect to court in time. Magistate Makomo ruled in favour of the refusal of remand application and Seremwa was released. The complainant in the case, Zimparks, is being represented by Chamunorwa Mashange. According to court papers, Seremwe of Avondale, is the owner of Nzou Safaris in Muzarabani. Prosecutors say, acting in connivance with trophy hunter Nesbert Mukora, professional hunter James Mackenzie, and Shephered Guzhe a senior ranger with Zimparks, the suspect allegedly acquired six tusks whose origin has not yet been established. Prosecutors say, with his knowledge of the ivory industry, Mukora purportedly engaged buyers for the tusks. Court heard that sometime in June, Mukora brought Chinese nationals Cong Yuling and Dong Anmin to his accomplices after indicating they had a hunting quota which could accommodate the six tusks they wanted. The accused went on to charge $45,000 and $30,000 deposit was paid. Knowing that the tusks did not originate from his Safari company, Seremwe allegedly went on to engage the services of professional hunters Mackenzie and Joseph Chitambwa to purport that they hunted three elephants, court heard. On June 6, the accused registered two elephant tusks in Yuling’s name at Zimparks headquarters. Registration was facilitated by Gushe who then went to Mukora’s house in Ruwa where the tusks were being kept and serialised them. The accused were paid a total of $60, 000 by the Chinese nationals and shared the money. To cover up the illicit deals, they then applied for a hunting permit from Zimparks for one elephant as per Mukora’s existing quota. Seremwe also applied for an additional permit to hunt two more elephants which he was granted. Acting on the misrepresentation by the accused, Zimparks facilitated the exportation of the six tusks as if they were legitimately acquired from Nzou Safaris. But investigations carried out in Muzarabani Rural District Council later revealed that Seremwe never hunted an elephant since the inception of a partnership agreement in 2011. Prosecutors told the court that as a result, Zimparks suffered prejudice of its good name after the tusks were smuggled to Asia using fake documents. After his arrest, it was also reported that Seremwe allegedly demanded another $20,000 saying it was for a Government minister that he was dealing with to facilitate the documents. Source: Conservation Action Trust/New

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