Cape Town – An ivory smuggler from Lansdowne was fined R1 million in the Khayelitsha Regional Court on Tuesday for the illegal possession of 46 elephant tusks.
Thabit Chilwan, 39, was also sentenced to 10 years in jail, suspended for five years.
Fellow accused Faizil Fortune, 43, from Kenilworth, had charges against him withdrawn.
Chilwan pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of ivory in a plea bargain between the State and the accused.
The tusks, representing at least 23 slain African elephants, were found on July 10, 2012 by customs officials doing a routine search at the U-Store storage facility near Cape Town International Airport.
According to court papers, Chilwan had been found packing the elephant tusks into containers with boxes of wine. The containers were to be exported to Hong Kong.
The total weight of the tusks was 762kg.
Chilwan said in court papers he had “received” the elephant tusks on behalf of a Chinese citizen known to him only as “Harry”.
The boxes of wine, used to hide the tusks, had also been supplied by Harry.
Chilwan said the deal was that he was to be paid by Harry once the container of tusks had reached Hong Kong.
“I realise being in possession of ivory without the necessary permits was unlawful,” Chilwan said in papers.
Magistrate Johan Venter said in passing sentence that police and CapeNature regarded ivory smuggling in a serious light.
“The whole community is looking to the courts to see how we are dealing with protecting these species,” he said.
The court understood that Chilwan has shown remorse and that the matter had affected him and his family. He hoped that the sentence would ensure Chilwan would refrain from committing a similar crime in the future.
Venter said Chilwan’s 10-year sentence was suspended for five years on condition he was not convicted of a crime involving African elephants in any province in the country. In addition, he would not be permitted to possess a firearm.
Venter said R830 000 of the R1m fine was to be paid in cash into the State attorney’s account, and the remainder as set out in the order. This would accrue to the Criminal Assets Recovery Fund.
The ivory would be forfeited to the state.
Paul Gildenhuys, head of CapeNature’s biodiversity crime unit, said he believed the sentence would send out the right message to the public.
He said the accused in the last six cases of illegal possession of ivory in the Khayelitsha Regional Court had all been sentenced to 10 years’ jail, some without the option of a fine. “The one before this, the accused got 10 years plus a R5m (fine),” Gildenhuys said.