US charges South African brothers in illegal rhino hunting case

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - OCTOBER 24, 2014

US prosecutors in Alabama on Thursday charged a South African company for selling illegal rhino hunts to Americans and secretly trafficking rhino horns to the black market where they sell at prices higher than gold.

Valinor Trading CC, which operates in the US as Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris and owned by Dawie Groenewald, 46, and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, 44, (who are South African nationals) faces 18 charges which include conspiracy, Lacey Act violations, mail fraud, money laundering and structuring bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements.

"This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the US will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place," Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Sam Hirsch said in a statement.

The whereabouts of the Groenewalds, and whether they have hired a lawyer, could not immediately be determined.

According to National Geographic magazine, Dawie Groenewald was previously arrested in South Africa in 2010, along with 10 others and a multi-charge case has been under way for four years.

Janneman Groenewald lived and operated out of Alabama's Autauga County, where he maintained company bank accounts.

It is alleged that nine American hunters paid up to US $15 000 per animal for a total of 11 hunts sold at hunting conventions and gun shows in the US between 2005 and 2010.

None of the hunters have been charged because prosecutors said the hunters were tricked by the Groenewalds into believing they were shooting legally at "problem" rhinos.

It has since emerged that the Groenewalds had obtained no hunting permits from the South African government or local municipalities, the indictment said. The hunts took place at a ranch in Musina, Limpopo Province, which is co-owned by the Groenewalds and American investors.

After killing or capturing a rhino, the hunters posed for photos with the carcasses that appeared on company marketing brochures. Dawie Groenewald, who supervised the hunts, then cut off the horns with chainsaws and knives.

The investigation was part of ongoing Operation Crash, named for a term used to describe a rhino herd, led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It has resulted in 26 arrests and 18 convictions, with prison terms as high as 70 months for illegal rhino hunting or trafficking in horns.