By Ilse de Lange
14 December 2016
Hugo Ras, who owned a safari company, and nine co-accused were arrested in 2014 in a countrywide operation by the Hawks.
The alleged ringleader of a rhino poaching syndicate, Hugo Ras, will remain behind bars until his trial starts, after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday dismissed his latest bail bid.
Ras, who owned a safari company, and nine co-accused were arrested in 2014 in a countrywide operation by the Hawks. The case involves 23 police dossiers, 284 charges and 162 potential state witnesses, including an alleged co-conspirator, who is under witness protection.
The charges centre on rhino poaching and the alleged theft and illegal possession, transport and sale of rhino horn. The 10 accused also face charges of racketeering and money laundering.
Ras’s co-accused include his wife Trudie, brother Anton, brother-in-law Abraham Smit, Hawks warrant officer Willie Oosthuizen, attorney Joseph Wilkinson, pilot Bonnie Steyn and the alleged main hunter, Mandla Magagula.
Although most of his co-accused got bail, Ras was repeatedly refused bail. He launched an appeal in the high court after a magistrate earlier this year refused him bail, finding that Ras had not laid any new facts before the court.
Ras maintained that a constitutional challenge by two co-accused to regulations underpinning the charges against them could delay the start of his trial for over two years, as it was expected that whoever lost the case would launch appeal proceedings.
He had already spent over two years in prison awaiting trial and argued he was being denied his right to a speedy trial and should not be punished for the delay by remaining behind bars. The trial has been provisionally postponed to February and Ras maintained there was no indication when it would start.
Prosecutor Joanie Spies argued in an earlier bail bid that Ras had a long history of clashing with the law. He was convicted on 20 charges between 2000 and 2009, including nature conservation charges, numerous charges involving illegal hunting and importing game, crimen injuria, assault and possession of an unlicensed firearm.
Ras admitted to failing to report to the police while previously out on bail.
Judge Sulet Potterill found that there were no new facts to support Ras’s bail bid and the magistrate had not erred in refusing him bail.