Hawks bust illegal lion sale operation in Potchefstroom

Two North West men appeared in the Potchefstroom Magistrates’ Court on Monday for allegedly trying to illegally sell lions.

32-year-old Nico Scoltz and 53-year-old Huu Tao Nguyen were pounced on by the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation after the Hawks received information on Wednesday about an Asian man who was illegally selling lions.

Illegally selling six lions

The information was operationalized, according to Lieutenant Colonel Tinyiko Mathebula, and an undercover operation was carried out on Friday, during which the suspect was said to have offered to sell the buyer six lions.

“Reports indicate that the suspect introduced the buyer to a white male who drove with them to a farm where the lions were kept,” Mathebula said.

After receiving the buyer’s deposit money, team members of the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation, working with Crime Intelligence, the Illegal Mining Task Team, and the Potchefstroom Local Criminal Record Centre, quickly launched an attack on the suspects upon their return to Potchefstroom.

After conducting a search, the team allegedly discovered 50 rounds of ammunition and a firearm in the suspect’s car. A trailer and a Toyota Fortuner were taken into custody for further investigation.

Contravention of NEMBA

Scoltz and Nguyen appeared in court facing charges of contravention of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (NEMBA), conspiracy to commit an offence, and possession of an unlawful firearm and ammunition.

The duo was remanded in custody, and their matter was postponed to 16 July 2024, for formal application.

North West acting Hawks head, Brigadier Silas Munzhedzi, welcomed the arrest and lauded the team’s efforts.

Lion bones recovered from luggage

Last June, a 43-year-old man was arrested at the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) after the Bidvest security guards at the airport discovered suspicious items in his luggage. His luggage was opened, and lion bones were recovered.

“During the preliminary investigation, it was discovered that it was the carcasses of five lions. The suspect will be charged with illegal dealing in wildlife, possession of lion bones, and contravening NEMBA,” said Captain Bonnie Nxumalo.

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