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How the Groenewald Gang Made Millions off Illicit Wildlife Trafficking

January 30, 2013

By Regina Morales

Regina Morales is a Policy Intern at Global Financial Integrity.

flickr / Dane Larsen

Dawie Groenewald of South Africa and 11 conspirators were arrested in September of 2010 on 1,872 counts of racketeering, including illegal trade of rhino horns. Among those arrested are two veterinarians, Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis, as well as several professional hunters. This case is one of the biggest wildlife cases seen in South Africa and has been postponed several times since 2010. It is currently scheduled for early May 2013.

Groenewald owns a big game farm in Polokwane, South Africa as well as Out Of Africa Adventurous Safaris. A burial site of over a dozen horn-less rhinos was found on his property in 2010. Investigators show that these rhinos are thought to have been purchased from the South African National Parks in 2007-2010. In order to increase his profit margin, Groenewald decided to slaughter the rhinos after removing their horns; thus eliminating any upkeep costs associated with live rhinos.

Rhino horns are worth up to $60,000 per kilo in parts of East Asia, namely China and Vietnam. They are thought to possess medicinal value, including curing cancer and small ailments such as fevers and headaches.  Rhino poaching in South Africa has been rising steadily over the past several years. According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, approximately 588 rhinos were poached in 2012. One could point to China and Vietnam’s increased affluence as having increased this demand.

Investigators have so far seized $6.8 million in assets from Groenewald, Toet, and Du Plessis. They also uncovered Valinor Trading CC, a “closed company” Groenewald used to launder money. However, this was not Groenewald’s first run in with the law. Groenewald is a former police officer and was discharged because of his ties to a car smuggling ring allegedly outfitted by ZANU PF, the ruling party of Zimbabwe’s notorious Robert Mugabe. Groenewald was arrested in Alabama in April 2010 for importing an unlawfully hunted leopard trophy. He was banned from the U.S. and ordered to pay a $30,000 fine as well as a $7,500 fee to the buyer in Alabama.

There is some evidence that the Groenewald Gang is part of a bigger international syndicate of illegal wildlife trafficking headed by high-ranking officials in Zimbabwe.

Groenewald and his associates are out of business, but many more like them remain. Poaching is a big business, and like any illicit business only exists at the scale it does because of the global shadow financial system. Money that Valinor Trading CC conceals becomes an illicit financial flow, and eventually must be deposited in a financial institution somewhere. Authorities have frozen $6.8 million of Groenewald’s assets, but who knows how much more is hiding behind a shell company’s bank account in some far-off tax haven.

It makes no sense that while Western countries work to protect endangered and threatened species from people like Groenewald and his clients, they simultaneously undermine these same policy goals by allowing money to be easily concealed.

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Dane Larsen

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Disclaimer: Unless specifically stated to be the views of the Financial Transparency Coalition, the opinions expressed on this blog are solely the opinions of the individual blogger and are not necessarily those of the Financial Transparency Coalition.

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