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Chinese rhino horn gang goes to High Court for bail

By Mashudu Netsianda

Seven Chinese nationals facing charges of illegal possession of more than 20kg of rhino horn pieces with an estimated value of about $1 million have approached the High Court seeking bail pending trial.

Chinese nationals cover their faces from cameras with towels as they leave the courtroom on January 3, 2019, at the Victoria Falls magistrate court where they faced charges of breaching Zimbabwe’s wildlife laws for possessing rhino horn pieces (AFP / Zinyange AUNTONY)
Chinese nationals cover their faces from cameras with towels as they leave the courtroom on January 3, 2019, at the Victoria Falls magistrate court where they faced charges of breaching Zimbabwe’s wildlife laws for possessing rhino horn pieces (AFP / Zinyange AUNTONY)

Zeng Dengui (35), Peicon Jang (35), Liu Cheng (23), Yu Xian (25), Yong Zhu (25), Chen Zhiangfu (30) and Qui Jinchang (29) have filed an application for bail pending trial at the Bulawayo High Court, citing the State as a respondent.

The Chinese nationals, who have been in custody since their arrest in December last year in Victoria Falls, are being charged with money laundering and possession of ivory.

The seven had their application for discharge dismissed by Hwange regional magistrate Mr Collet Ncube last month.

They have since filed an application for review under case number HC640/19 challenging the dismissal and the matter is still pending before the High Court in Bulawayo.

In their bail statement, the seven accused persons, who are being represented by lawyers from Mvhiringi and Associates, said their continued detention was a violation of their right to liberty in terms of the administration of justice.

They argued that there was no scope of interference with investigations or evidence since all State witnesses have already testified.

The accused persons also dismissed the State’s fears that there was a likelihood of absconding given the seriousness of the alleged offence, arguing that the State case was weak hence the probability of their conviction was next to none.

“The applicants believe that the respondent has failed to prove a prima facie case against them at the close of its case. The court a quo dismissed the application for discharge and the applicants then filed an application for review in this honourable court seeking review of that decision.

“The applicants believe that their application for review filed under case number HC640/19 has merit,” argued the applicants’ lawyers.

The lawyers contended that the lower court unreasonably disposed of the applicants’ application for discharge without addressing whether or not the State had laid evidence on the essential elements of possession.

The lawyers said their clients demonstrated that the interest of justice would not be prejudiced if they are released on bail pending determination of the matter.

The seven men offered to pay a security deposit of US$1 000 each with the clerk of court at Hwange magistrate’s court and surrender their passports as part of their bail conditions.

They also indicated that they were willing to report every day at Victoria Falls Police Station and continue residing at their given addresses until the matter is finalised.

Allegations against the seven are that on December 23, they were found in possession of several pieces of rhino horns weighing 20,98kg and valued at $938 700 at house number 858 Aerodrome suburb in Victoria Falls where they were renting.

The house belongs to a taxidermist who operates a wildlife trophy shop. Police received a tip-off and raided the house after obtaining a search warrant from court.

They recovered several pieces of rhino horns weighing 20,98kg in a bedroom used by one of the accused persons. A digital scale was also recovered. The Chronicle