Expert witness links cellphone calls to poaching crimes

Three men yesterday pleaded not guilty to more than 50 criminal charges relating to the poaching and harvesting of the horns of some 13 rhino over five years in the Eastern Cape.
In one of the biggest rhino poaching trials to date in South Africa, Jabulani Ndlovu, 40, Forget Ndlovu, 37, and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu, 38, who are all out on bail, are facing dozens of charges of theft, malicious injury to property, the hunting or killing of endangered rhinos without a permit, unlawful possession of tranquilliser opioid agents, and illegal possession of ammunition.
The state alleges in the indictment that the three men – not related despite the surname – were caught red-handed in a raid on a chalet at Grahamstown’s Makana Resort in June 2016 with 10.27kg freshly harvested rhino horn valued at R1-million, a bloody saw, a dart gun, M99 (a tranquiliser), cellphones and sim cards. The police raid on the resort happened shortly after a valuable white rhino bull was poached at nearby Buckland’s Game Reserve.
The state says it will link the men to the killing of 12 other rhino from reserves spread across the province.
The men were initially also to face a further 15 charges relating to the killing of nine other rhino in the province during their current trial.
However, senior state advocate Buks Coetzee withdrew these charges against Forget. He indicated that Jabulani and Sikhumbuzo would still face the charges but in a separate trial at a later date.
The trial kicked off with complex cellphone evidence in which expert Carmen van Tichelen from the rhino security unit began explaining the process by which she tied together cellphones and sim cards to the accused and, via cellphone towers, to particular rhino poaching crime scenes at particular dates.
She said she was able to link the cellphones and sim cards to the three men, even those not registered to them, via usage patterns, contacts saved on the phones and photographs (including selfies).
Defence advocate Terry Price SC, told Judge Jeremy Pickering that they intended challenging the admissibility of all the evidence on the basis that police had no search warrant when they arrested the three.
The trial resumes today. The court is likely to hold a trial-within-a-trial over the admissibility of the evidence seized in the June 2016 raid...

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