WASHINGTON – Two South African men were charged on Thursday by the US government with conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts to American hunters, money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns.
The charges were part of an 18-count indictment unveiled against Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, as part of a multi-year investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service into wildlife trafficking crimes on US soil.
Dawie Groenewald, 46, and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, 44, are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering and violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to sell illegal animal hunts.
“These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts,” said US Attorney George Beck of Alabama.
“Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama,” where Janneman Groenewald lived from 2005 to 2010, Beck added.
The US Justice Department alleges that “from 2005 to 2010, the Groenewald brothers traveled throughout the United States to attend hunting conventions and gun shows where they sold outfitting services and accommodations to American hunters to be conducted at their ranch in Mussina, South Africa.”
Hunters paid between $3,500 and $15,000 for the illegal rhino hunts, said the indictment, which accuses the defendants of misleading the American hunters.
“The hunters were told the lie that a particular rhino had to be killed because it was a ‘problem rhino,'” a statement from the Department of Justice said.
They were told that while the carcass and horns could not be exported, “the hunters could nonetheless shoot the rhino, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price.”
Eleven illegal hunts are described in papers filed at a federal court.
The defendants are accused of failing to obtain permits under South African law and of cutting “the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives.”
They are also charged with selling the rhino horn on the black market.
One rhino “had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow,” said the government statement.
Dawie Groenewald is also accused of using “a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun.”
The American hunters who took part have not been charged.
“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,” said Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division.
All kinds of rhinos are protected under US and international law.
Demand for rhinoceros horn — which is made from keratin, the same material in hair and nails — has skyrocketed in recent years, largely driven by demand from Asia where the powdered horn is valued for its supposed medicinal properties.
Experts say the drive for black market rhino horn, selling for as much as cocaine or gold, has led to the rapid decline of the species by over 90 percent since 1970.
In the picture: Dawie Groenewald and his wife Sariette attend the Musina Magistrate’s court on charges related to rhino poaching on September 22, 2010 in Messina, South Africa. Source: Foto24 Gallo Images / Getty Images