The alleged ringleader of a rhino poaching syndicate, Hugo Ras, has complained bitterly to the High Court in Pretoria that he faced indefinite imprisonment because a trial date has not been set more than three years after his arrest.
Ras’ legal counsel said his client wanted to turn to the Supreme Court of Appeal now in an effort to secure bail as he still did not know when his trial would start or end and feared that the actual trial might run for up to 10 years.
Ras has repeatedly been refused bail. Of the 10 accused, only he and fellow accused Arno Smit and Willie van Jaarsveld are still in custody.
Acting Judge David Mhango provisionally postponed the trial of Ras, a former safari company owner, and his co-accused to March 28 next year at the state’s request.
Several of the other accused’s advocates also put on record their objection to yet another long delay. But prosecutor Joanie Spies told the court the state and defence had agreed the trial would not proceed before judgment in a constitutional challenge to regulations underpinning the criminal charges filed by two of the accused, Joseph Wilkinson (an attorney) and Bonnie Steyn (a pilot).
The application would initially have been heard early this year, but was delayed when the Department of Environmental Affairs gave notice that it wanted to intervene in the application.
The court was told that not all the papers and heads of argument had been filed in the civil application, for which a date still has to be determined.
The bail conditions of two of the accused were relaxed and one of them, former Hawks warrant officer Willie Oosthuizen, will now be able to travel overseas under strict conditions.
His counsel told the court he was being prejudiced as his life and any ventures he wanted to engage in were on hold because of the criminal charges hanging over his head.
Ras and his co-accused were arrested in September 2014 in a countrywide operation by the Hawks. The charges they face involve rhino poaching and the alleged theft and illegal possession, transport and sale of rhino horn.
The accused also face charges of racketeering and money laundering. Ras’ co-accused include his wife Trudie, brother Anton, brother-in-law Abraham Smit and alleged main hunter Mandla Magagula. – email@example.com