The Herald (Harare)

13 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Rhino Horns Vanish At Court

Police have launched investigations into a case in which four rhinoceros horns worth $250 000 kept as exhibits disappeared at the Beitbridge magistrates courts. Police officer commanding Beitbridge district Chief Superintendent Lawrence Chinhengo said yesterday that they were yet to make any arrests.

He said they were suspecting that the horns could have disappeared from the court's strong room last year.

Chief Supt Chinhengo said police arrested a poacher in February last year at Bubi Conservancy in Mazunga area and recovered four rhino horns.

The horns were taken to the court as part of the evidence against the poacher.

"The evidence which we marked as exhibits was then taken to the magistrates court for safe keeping until the case was finalised.

The man was later convicted of poaching and sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in June last year," he said.

He said the police on December 11 wanted to collect the horns that were now State property.

The horns had to be handed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority for further management.

Chief Supt Chinhengo said the police did not get the horns after the then clerk of court Tineyi Chimwe indicated that he would release them on the availability of the docket which had been sent to the High Court for review.

However, Chimwe hanged himself from a tree near the International Organisation for Migration Reception and Support Centre last month.

The clerk of court was facing allegations of misappropriating R116 500 in exhibits money.

"We later went back to the court on February 4 to collect the horns only to discover that they had been stolen.

"We discovered records at the court indicating that the horns had been released to the purported owners. There were three signatures, one for the late clerk of court (Chimwe), the purported owner of the horns and another official at the court.

"These indicated that the horns had been collected by the owners and in this case the horns now belong to the State through the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

"We have since established that the parks officials have not yet received such items.

"Intensive investigations are in progress and we hope to account for the suspects very soon.

"Our detectives are on top of the situation," he said.

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