South African man jailed 2 years for smuggling S$1.2m worth of rhino horns through Changi Airport

The accused's final destination was Laos.

Ashley Tan | January 29, 2024, 11:41 AM



In what is to date Singapore's heaviest sentence meted out for smuggling wildlife parts, a South African man was sentenced to 24-months' jail for smuggling 20 pieces of rhinoceros horns through Changi Airport.

Photo from NParks

33-year-old Gumede Sthembiso Joel was sentenced on Jan. 26 after pleading guilty to two charges under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act for transiting in Singapore with rhino horns without a valid permit.

The accused was travelling from South Africa to Laos through Singapore.

Airport security and the National Parks Board's (NParks) K9 Unit inspected and discovered 34.7kg of rhino horns in two pieces of baggage.

The horns were seized by NParks on Oct. 4, 2022.

18 pieces of the horns were identified by NParks' Centre for Wildlife Forensics to be from 15 different white rhinoceroses, while two pieces were from black rhinoceroses.

Photo from NParks

Photo from NParks

Rhinoceroses are Appendix I species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Appendix I species are the most endangered and at risk of extinction, and international trade of these species is prohibited.

Accused had help from another South African man

For further investigations and evidence analysis, NParks deployed officers to South Africa with support from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force and INTERPOL.

"The successful conclusion of these investigations was the result of close cooperation between NParks, CAD, South African Police Service and INTERPOL," NParks said in a press release.

Investigations found that the accused was acquainted with another South African man, Jaycee Israel Marvatona, who was allegedly involved in the illegal rhino horn trade.

Sometime in or before September 2022, Jaycee had asked the accused to transport the horns, and the accused agreed as long as Jaycee provided him with flight tickets and cash.

The accused left South Africa for Singapore on Oct. 3, 2022.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, those found in possession of CITES-scheduled Appendix I species transiting through Singapore without a valid CITES permit can be fined up to S$50,000 for each scheduled species in transit in Singapore (not exceeding S$500,000) and/or jailed for up to 2 years.

The same penalties apply to those possessing or transporting CITES-scheduled Appendix I species, including their parts and derivatives.

NParks stated:

"Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the illegal trade of endangered wildlife species, and their parts and derivatives. Our agencies collaborate closely in a multi-pronged approach, which includes targeting the illicit financial and asset flows of such crimes and working with our international partners, to maintain vigilance in regulating and enforcing against the illegal wildlife trade."

Members of the public can do their part by ensuring their purchases do not contain animal parts of endangered species, and that they are not contributing to the demand for the illegal trade of wildlife.

Members of the public can contact NParks at [email protected] if they spot any occurrences of illegal wildlife trade. Information shared will be kept strictly confidential.

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