By Thupeyo Muleya
A bid for freedom by a 35-year-old Zimbabwean and a Chinese national (28) accused of illegally possessing dried abalone worth nearly R10 million, hit a snag again yesterday when their bail hearing was postponed for the second time.
Lawrence Muroma and Qing Quan Feng were found in possession of 70 boxes of the endangered shellfish.
They will have to endure another week in custody until June 17 pending another bail application attempt, at the Atlantis Magistrate Court in Western Cape.
The duo was arrested by South Africa’s elite police, the Hawks on May 16 while travelling in a Hino truck and a white Audi along the N7 highway, heading towards Malmesbury.
Muroma and Feng initially failed to formally apply for bail on 26 May and the matter was pushed to yesterday and again the process failed to take off.
Western Cape spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority Mr Eric Ndabazalila confirmed the latest development in a telephone interview yesterday.
“The case has been remanded until next week (Thursday), June 17 for bail application,” he said.
The trading of abalone shellfish, which is regarded as an endangered species, is prohibited in most SADC countries.
The shellfish is a unique type of snail classified under the gastropod phylum-Mollusca and is often referred to as the sea ear because of its flattened shape.
This type of seafood is considered a delicacy in Asia.
Hawks’ spokesperson for Western Cape Ms Zinzi Hani said the two have been charged for possession and transporting illegal abalone in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998.
“They were arrested after members of our Serious Organised Crime Investigation, Crime Intelligence, and officials from the Department of Environmental Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) acted on information concerning the transportation of illegal abalone,” she said.
She said two accused persons were travelling in a Hino truck and a white Audi along the N7 highway and heading towards Malmesbury.
Ms Hani said the two men were stopped at a service station in Philadelphia for searches leading to the discovery of the dried abalone which was hidden in a false compartment beneath.
The Hino truck, she said, was driven by the Muroma whilst the Feng drove the Audi.
“The two vehicles were searched leading to the discovery of dried abalone in a hidden compartment underneath the Hino truck.
“The vehicles were then taken to Philadelphia police station for further investigation, where it was discovered that the 70 boxes contained 23 896 dried abalones with an estimated street value of R9.9 million,” said Ms Hani.
In the last five years, six people have been arrested by SAPS smuggling the shellfish to either Botswana, Zimbabwe, or Mozambique. The Chronicle