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South Africa Seizes Assets Of Alleged Rhino Poachers

5/9/2012 8:24 PM ET

Police in South Africa on Wednesday confiscated assets worth nearly $7 million belonging to three suspected rhino poachers, which they plan to hold on until the case is settled by the country's courts.

The seized assets belong to safari business owner Dawie Groenewald and veterinary surgeons Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis. The three men were arrested in September 2010 in raids that busted a rhino poaching syndicate engaged in smuggling rhino horns to Asian countries. The men were charged with 1,872 counts of racketeering in what the police describe as one of South Africa's biggest wildlife crime cases.

The three suspects were arrested in the northern Limpopo province, which houses part of the world-famous Kruger National Park. They have since been charged with 1,872 counts of racketeering as well as killing, selling and dumping rhino carcasses.

Police spokesman Col. Vishnu Naido said in a statement on Wednesday that the seized assets are believed " "to have been acquired through criminal activities, particularly rhino poaching." He added that it was "one of the biggest wildlife cases in South Africa."

Naido said the seized assets will be used "to continue with the combating of crime" if the three suspects are convicted of the charges.

"Generally, those that commit such crimes will serve their sentences but still come back to a life of luxury by seizing assets, criminals have no worldly possessions to enjoy and this certainly helps send out a clear message that crime does not pay," he added.

Poaching of rhinos and smuggling their horns to Asian countries are continuing in South Africa despite the recent tightening of anti-poaching laws. Officials estimate that more than 210 rhinos have been killed so far this year for their horns.

Poachers and middle-men in South Africa smuggle horns of the poached rhinos to some Asian nations, where they are in high demand for medicinal or ornamental purposes. The smuggled rhino horns fetch very high prices in the Asian black market.

Rhino horns are used in several Asian countries like Vietnam and China for traditional medicine, while they are used to make ornaments in some Middle East nations. They are highly priced in these countries and could fetch up to $100,000 per kilogram.

The illegal poaching of rhinos for their highly-priced horns have made them "highly endangered" species. Several species of rhinos have already become extinct due to excessive hunting. It is estimated the total strength of the rhino population in the world is now less than 25,000.

by RTT Staff Writer

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