By Leonard Ncube
Police have opened fresh charges of money laundering and theft of a motor vehicle against seven Chinese nationals who are being accused of possessing more than 20kg of rhino horn pieces with a combined value of close to $1 million.
Zeng Dengui (35), Peicon Jang (35), Liu Cheng (23), Yu Xian (25), Yong Zhu (25), Chen Zhiangfu (30) and Qui Jinchang (29) were arrested on December 23 and charged with contravening Section 45(1) (b) of the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14 as read with Section 128(b) of the same Act.
The sections criminalise keeping, possessing, selling or disposing of any live specially protected animal, meat or trophy of any such animal.
Trial was supposed to kick off yesterday but prosecutor Mr Bhekimpilo Tshabalala said the State had deferred the date because police had indicated intention to press new charges.
“We were supposed to go for trial today and the docket is already in Hwange for prosecution to go through it. They have however said they are not ready for trial because police have made indications that they want to press further charges of money laundering emanating from this case. There is also mention of a charge of theft of a motor vehicle,” said Mr Tshabalala.
The new charges have not been taken to court and no details were given.
Mr Tshabalala said the docket was sent to Hwange because the Victoria Falls magistrate court has no jurisdiction to try matters of such magnitude.
In response, defence lawyer Mr Givemore Mvhiringi of Mvhiringi and Associates said his clients have a constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time.
He accused the State of abusing the court by delaying trial when a date had already been set.
“Police had finished investigations hence we agreed on a trial date and so changing the date has no ground. It will be a sad day if the court buys the story that the State in Victoria Falls is different from the state in Harare and Hwange.
“The court can’t speculate that police will bring new charges. State is clearly abusing the court because there is no law which provides that a trial which has been set down can be suspended to allow police to prefer new charges against an accused,” said Mr Mvhiringi.
Victoria Falls magistrate Ms Rangarirai Gakanje said the court agreed with the defence point of view.
She ordered prosecution to provide trial date on Wednesday next week.
A determination will be made whether the case will be transferred to Hwange for trial or not.
The accused are in custody.
Allegations against the seven accused are that they were found in possession of the rhino pieces at house number 858 Aerodrome on December 23.
Police received a tip-off and raided the house after obtaining a search warrant from court and recovered several pieces of rhino horns weighing 20,98kg. A digital scale was also recovered.
The total value of the pieces is $938 700. The Chronicle