(CN) – Two South African brothers were indicted in Alabama on charges of conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunting trips to Americans and also of selling rhino horns on the black market.
Prosecutors said the brothers, Dawie and Janneman Groenewald, traveled to hunting conventions and gun shows throughout the United States between 2005 and 2010, where they sold hunts to be conducted at their ranch in Mussina, South Africa.
During the period covered by an 18-count indictment unsealed Thursday, Janneman Groenewald lived in Autauga County, Alabama, where Out of Africa maintained bank accounts.
According to prosecutors, hunters paid between $3,500 and $15,000 to take parts in the hunts, and the Groenewalds laundered those fund by structuring deposits into the Alabama accounts to avoid federal reporting requirements.
During the hunts, the Groenewalds allegedly lied to hunters, telling them that a particular rhino had to be killed because it was a “problem rhino.”
They also allegedly told the hunters that while no trophy could be legally exported, the hunters could nonetheless shoot the rhino, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price.
This enabled the brothers to keep the horns, and which they then sold on the black market, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney George Beck said this was an especially lucrative side business for the brothers because rhino horns are prized for their alleged medicinal qualities and can fetch more than $30,000 a pound. Each of the horns the brothers allegedly sold or tried to sell weighed between five and 10 pounds, he said.
“These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts,” Beck said. “Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama. We will not allow United States’ citizens to be used as a tool to destroy a species that is virtually harmless to people or other animals.”
The indictments are part of “Operation Crash,” an undercover investigation into illegal trafficking of rhinos that has already resulted in a dozen convictions, prosecutors said.
The Groenewalds face charges of conspiracy, illegal wildlife trafficking, mail fraud, international money laundering and structuring bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements. If convicted, each of the brothers faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors also pointed out that this isn’t the brothers first brush with the law due to their illegal hunt activities.
In 2010, Dawie Groenewald pleaded guilty in Montgomery to a felony charge involving a leopard that was illegally hunted in South Africa and imported to the United States. He was fined $30,000.
Prosecutors said neither brother has been arrested on the latest charges, but the United States would seek extradition.
No charges have been filed against hunters who participated in the hunts.
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