The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, has questioned the conduct of prosecutors who recommend bail to suspected poachers, while crucial investigations are ongoing. Shifeta said it is frustrating for law enforcement officials who are working tirelessly to nab poachers when prosecutors propose bail for suspects.
The minister’s remarks follow closely on the decision by Okahao Magistrate Liwena Mikiti to grant bail to several of the 24 suspects arrested last month for illegally hunting rhinos and elephants. The minister was further frustrated by the fact that one of the accused granted bail last week is a police officer from the Omusati Region.
“We have arrested a lot of people, including a police officer in Windhoek. I understand the police officer was given bail of N$25,000 and I asked why he was given bail. The prosecutors are supposed to deny bail. I heard they proposed bail on two occasions. “In fact they are only supposed to remand suspects. We are getting suspicious about some of these prosecutors, but we’re still investigating. I’ve discussed it with the Ministry of Justice. I also intend to discuss it with the Prosecutor General. I also spoke about it to the Attorney General and the Chief Justice,” he remarked.
Among the accused released last week on bail of N$40,000 each are Tobias Sheetu Amunyela, 25, Lukas Akooko, 35, and Pineas Natangwe Awene, 39. He fears that the police officer out on bail could interfere with ongoing investigations.
Shifeta said the reward of N$30,000, which was doubled to N$60,000 in May, has proven a successful tactic that can lead to more arrests, including of traditional leaders who allegedly use horses when poaching. Noting that a deputy director at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in the Erongo Region was arrested last week on charges of hunting protected game between 2008 and 2015, Shifeta said more arrests are expected.
He said he is thankful to the law enforcement officers for bringing the situation under control in such a short time. “You can see now that we are relaxed. I am happy. This is the first month without any [reported incidents of] poaching. We made a breakthrough. I have to congratulate our officials, the Namibian Police and Intelligence Services,” Shifeta said. Police Regional Commander for the Oshana Region, Commissioner Ndahangwapo Kashihakumwa, who is head of operations, earlier revealed that around 62 rhinos have been poached in the Etosha National Park area since 2008.
The 24 suspects, including the police officer implicated in the most recent case, made a brief court appearance before the Okahao Magistrates Court in the Omusati Region on Thursday. They are accused of killing rhinos in or near the Etosha National Park in the vicinity of Oshana, Omusati and Kunene. The case was remanded to September 7 for legal aid and to allow for further police investigations.
It is alleged that the accused, who are mostly from Onamatanga, Utsathima, Omakange, Opuwo, Etilyasa, Otjetjekua, Otjonova and one each from Walvis Bay and Windhoek, hunted rhino for the horns. Mateus Matati Kauzapo, 34, Daniel Shilongo, 22, Tiophilus Paulus Kauzapo, 25, Kauko Muumbwa Song, 26, Mavetjere Tuntjo Tjikapute, 32, and 59-year-old Mateus Paulus, were all released after their first court appearance. Nampa reported that State Prosecutor Victoria Shigwedha said the six were released due to a lack of evidence linking them to the case.
Remaining in custody are Petrus Uukongo, 39; Sakeus Ekandjo, 27; Paulus Matati Uusiku, 29; Amwaama Petrus Nemulipo, 45; Tauhulupo Heumbondi Kandi, 29; Alex Shipingana Nampweya, 32; Kleophas Ashipala, 32; Jason Eino Shipingana, 33; Johannes Kefas Iimbuwa, 49; Ignatius Kiinge Tonata, 36; Gumwe Shipingana, 29; Absalom Nashilongo, 25; Shalulile Shaanyena, 42; Katirire Turitjo Tjapi, 45; and Fillemon Iilende Magongo (age unknown).
Shigwedha appeared for the State, while the accused conducted their own defence.