United States Indicts Dawie Groenewald

By Julian Rademeyer

The United States indictmentDawie Groenewald, a notorious South African game farmer and alleged “rhino horn syndicate kingpin”, has been indicted by United States prosecutors on charges relating to illegal rhino hunts.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that Groenewald, 46, and his younger brother Janneman, 44, have been charged with “conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts in South Africa in order to defraud American hunters, money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns”.

Both men are believed to be in South Africa at present. Dawie Groenewald, who was arrested in a highly publicised South African police raid four years ago along with his wife and a number of professional hunters and veterinarians, is due back in the Pretoria High Court in August next year. He is currently out on bail.

South African prosecutors have thrown the book at Groenewald and his co-accused, charging them with thousands of counts of illegal hunting, dealing in rhino horns, racketeering, money-laundering and fraud.

Now Groenewald and his brother also face charges under several United States laws including the Lacey Act, a powerful piece of legislation that makes it a crime to knowingly sell wildlife that was “taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of foreign law”.

The indictment forms part of Operation Crash, a far-reaching investigation into the illegal rhino horn trade led by the Special Investigations Unit of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the DOJ statement:

The indictment charges Dawie Groenewald and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, both South African nationals, and their company Valinor Trading CC (d/b/a Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris) with conspiracy, Lacey Act violations, mail fraud, money laundering and structuring bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements.  

The Lacey Act, the [United States’s] oldest criminal statute addressing illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking, makes it a crime to sell animal hunts conducted in violation of state, federal, tribal and foreign law.

According to the 18-count indictment, from 2005 to 2010, the Groenewald brothers travelled throughout the United States to attend hunting conventions and gun shows where they sold outfitting services and accommodations to American hunters to be conducted at their ranch in Mussina, South Africa. During the time period covered by the indictment, Janneman Groenewald lived in Autauga County, Alabama, where Out of Africa maintained bank accounts and is accused of money laundering and structuring deposits to avoid federal reporting requirements. Hunters paid between $3,500 and $15,000 for the illegal rhino hunts.

The defendants are charged with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading American hunters. The hunters were told the lie that a particular rhino had to be killed because it was a “problem rhino.” Therefore, while no trophy could be legally exported, the hunters could nonetheless shoot the rhino, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price. Meanwhile, the defendants are alleged to have failed to obtain necessary permits required by South Africa and cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives.

The indictment alleges that the defendants then sold the rhino horn on the black market. Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court, including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun. The American hunters have not been charged.

“We are literally fighting for the survival of a species today.  In that fight, we will do all we can to prosecute those who traffic in rhino horns and sell rhino hunts to Americans in violation of foreign law,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the U.S. will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place.

“These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts,” stated George L. Beck, the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. “Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama. We will not allow United States’ citizens to be used as a tool to destroy a species that is virtually harmless to people or other animals.

“The fact that defendants used American hunters to execute this scheme is appalling – but not as appalling as the brutal tactics they employed to kill eleven critically endangered wild rhinos,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe.

“South Africa has worked extraordinarily hard to protect its wild rhino population, using trophy hunts as a key management tool. The illegal ‘hunts’ perpetrated by these criminals undermine that work and the reputation of responsible hunters everywhere.

Download the complete United States indictment here.

Additional reading 

National Geographic: US indictment accuses South African brothers of trafficking rhino horns

US Fish and Wildlife Service: Owners of safari company indicted for illegal rhino hunts

An extract from Killing for Profit about Groenewald

The State versus Dawie Groenewald

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