White Rhino grazing at Monate Lodge

Monday, 31 October 2011

Thai rhino horn suspect seeks bail

A Thai national accused of buying rhino horns through permits acquired illegally by strippers and prostitutes took his battle to be freed on bail to the Johannesburg High Court on Wednesday.
The man claims the State has no grounds for detaining him.
Chumlong Lemtongthai was challenging last month’s ruling by the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court that he was a flight risk as he had nothing tying him to South Africa.
In opposing his bail, the State had argued it was possible for Lemtongthai to skip the country despite his travel documents being in the investigating officer’s possession because he could bribe Home Affairs officials to get other documents. Magistrate Eric Mhlari agreed, saying it was not impossible for people without documents to travel.
But, arguing in court on Wednesday, Lemtongthai’s counsel, advocate Laurance Hodes SC, disagreed, saying the magistrate had erred in refusing bail and that it was unconstitutional to deny a person bail simply because they had no family in South Africa.
“The magistrate erred in holding that he was of the opinion that the fears of the State that the appellant may not stand trial, it being possible that the appellant might flee the country, there being nothing binding the appellant to South Africa, led him to conclude bail should be refused. The magistrate erred in finding the appellant constituted a flight risk.”
Hodes said Mhlari had also erred in finding that the State had a strong case against Lemtongthai, saying he had a solid defence to charges of contravening the Customs and Excise Act and fraud. The man was willing to pay R100 000 bail and there was no evidence to prove he would skip bail.
However, prosecutor Allen Simpson differed, arguing that no amount of money would be sufficient to keep Lemtongthai in the country. “Money is clearly not an object, so he is indeed a flight risk.”
Judge Motsamai Makume reserved judgment for tomorrow.
Lemtongthai is accused of running a syndicate that used Thai prostitutes and strippers, who would pose as hunters.
The State said 26 rhinos had been shot this way, and Lemtongthai had sold the horns for R65 000 a kilogram.

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