Czech-mate for rhino horn smuggling pipeline

THE Czech Republic has charged three Vietnamese alleged to be members of an international crime syndicate specialising in trafficking rhino horn.

According to Stephanka Zenclova, spokesman for the Municipal State Attorney’s office in Prague, the accused face up to eight years in prison if convicted of the charges.

They have been in custody since July 2014 and were charged on Wednesday.

Police seized further incriminating items and documents during home-searches in two Czech towns, and in Prague's Sapa market place.
"Law enforcement bodies may use them in further criminal proceedings”, Zenklova said.

Authorities suspect the group wanted to export horns to Vietnam without the required permits from the Czech Republic, and sell them on the black market where their price exceeds several times the hunting costs.

A Czech dossier shows vast quantites of rhino horn have been moved from to from South Africa to Eastern Europe to avoid detection, before re-export to Vietnam.

The practise is called “round-tripping”.

Forensic test results showed the seized horns belonged to a southern white rhino hunted by a Czech man in South Africa at a Limpopo hunting farm located near Ellisras.

It is believed the farm is owned by a husband and wife Czech couple.

The horns were allegedly acquired as hunting trophies in contravention of international regulations and CITES protocol (Convention for the Trade in Endangered Species) by exploiting legal loopholes in the South Africa’s conservation and hunting permit system.

Czech investigators believe there were more than 25 pseudo rhino hunts by Czechs in Limpopo alone, and massive loopholes in South Africa's conservation and hunting regulations allowed the syndicates to arrange pseudo hunts there.

"These were not rhino trophy hunting trips for the sport. They were cold-blooded executions," they told The Times.

The breakthrough in the case against the three accused came when alert Czech customs officials at Prague’s Vaclav Havel airport x-rayed a shipping crate destined for Vietnam in December 2013.

The crate was labelled as “wiring accessories”.

According to Sarka Miskovska of the Czech Customs Authority, officials discovered two rhino horns covered in plastic film and coated with resin and asphalt concealed in the centre compartment of an electrical wire spool/spindle.

"The horns weighed approximately 6.77 kg, and valued at approximately US$360 000 on the international black-market", said Simona Ciqankova of the Czech Environmental inspectorate.


A bear gallbladder was also concealed in the same container.
Bile extracted from bear gall-bladders is sold at a premium in Vietnam.

Less than a month ago, in December, a separate 16-member Czech-Vietnamese group was also charged with trafficking in rhino horns.

A dossier of evidence compiled by Czech authorities alleges the group hired proxy hunters to hunt rhinos at controversial safari outfitter Dawie Groenewald’s farm, Prachtig, also located in Limpopo, near Musina.

SIMON BLOCH - Times Live