Alleged Walvis ivory smugglers granted bail

The accused in the Walvis Bay ivory matter say they were under the impression that the owner had a permit.

24 September 2019 | Justice

Alleged ivory smugglers Dirk Vermeulen, Edgar Clark and Michael Lusse were granted bail by the Walvis Bay Magistrate's Court on Friday. Bail was set at N$30 000 each.

During the two-day bail hearing all three suspects testified that they never knew the origin of the tusks. The two tusks were found in the possession of Clark and Vermeulen during an undercover operation earlier this month. Lusse was arrested later on. The tusks weighed about 64 kilograms and were estimated to be worth N$103 072.

The three testified on Thursday that they were under the impression that the previous owner of the tusks had a permit to own the ivory.

Vermeulen testified that he had lost his job seven months ago and was without any source of income.

“Michael told me that he had tusks in his possession that he wanted to get rid of. I approached him and offered to assist him in getting rid of the tusks. I thought I would be able to make some money by selling them. I approached Edgar to help search for buyers for the tusks,” Vermeulen testified.

Lusse testified that that he had obtained the tusks from a friend, whom he identified as Bryce Edwards, a former mayor of Walvis Bay.

“He told me that the permit for the tusks had expired and asked me to keep them for him while he organised a new permit. During this time he moved to Cape Town and passed away shortly after leaving me with the tusks. I did not know Edwards's family and could not contact any of them to give the tusks back to them.

“I never traded in elephant tusks. I had them in my possession since 2012 and if wanted to I could have sold them. Instead I gave the tusks to Vermeulen to do with what he wanted,” Lusse told the court.

The investigating officer, Sergeant Stefanus Frans, testified that the tusks were traced to their original owner in Cape Town, who had died in the early 2000s.

“The tusks had a permit at one stage but it expired after the death of the original owner. The original owner took the tusks as a trophy in Maun, Botswana, 20 years ago and worked at the same fish factory as Edwards did,” Frans said.

“When the owner moved to Cape Town he requested Edwards to bring the tusks to one of the factory's fishing vessels. The tusks were loaded aboard the vessel. When it stopped off at Lüderitz the police arrested the skipper and the crew of the vessel when they found the tusks.

“During this time the tusks still had a valid permit and after spending some time in the police holding cells in Lüderitz, the matter was withdrawn and the tusks signed over to the lawyer that represented the boat crew. This lawyer handed the two tusks to Edwards, who kept the tusks in Walvis Bay until he moved to Cape Town in 2012.”

Frans indicated that he needed two more months to determine the exact movement of the tusks between Walvis Bay and Lüderitz. Magistrate John Liwayo set bail at N$30 000 each, with strict conditions. All three accused must hand over their passports to the investigating officer and may not apply for new travel documents pending the finalisation of the case. They must also report at the Walvis Bay police station three times a week. The case was postponed to 28 November. Tuihaleni Hilikuete was the prosecutor, while the accused were represented by attorney Jan Wessels.





LEANDREA LOUW

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