THE Court of Appeal has sentenced five wildlife poachers to 20 years imprisonment or pay 2.3bn/- fine each, for unlawful possession of 18 pieces of elephant tusks.
The quintet were found guilty for unlawful possession of government trophies, worth 228,825,000/- without a permit from the Director of Wildlife.
Justices Stella Mugasha, Gerald Ndika and Mary Levira ruled against Mwinyi Kitalamba, Emmanuel Sindano, Juma Malyango, Lucas Hosea, alias Kayago and Lucas Mayai, alias Damson Mayai, the appellants, after dismissing their appeal, challenging the decision of the High Court.
"We conclude that the appeal lacks merit. Consequently, we uphold the appellants' respective convictions and order that the 20 years' imprisonment imposed on each of them be served in default of payment of the fine of 2,288,250,000/-. The appeal stands dismissed," they declared.
During hearing of the appeal, the counsel for the appellants had contended, among others, that the offence of unlawful possession of government trophy was not proven against his clients, a position which was strongly opposed by State Attorney Salim Msemo, for the prosecution.
In their judgment delivered in the Capital City of Dodoma recently, the justices noted that in convicting the appellants of unlawful possession of government trophies, the courts below, apart from relying upon the oral evidence of witnesses, which they found to be credible, acted upon the cautioned statements.
"We have reviewed the repudiated or retracted statements, which the trial court found to have been made voluntarily after it had conducted inquiries into their voluntariness and validity. As did the courts below, we have found the statements incriminating," they observed.
While Malyango admitted to being the owner of, at least, four of the eighteen tusks, Kitalamba, Sindano and Mayai confessed to being a part of a criminal venture and that each of them carried the tusks from the game reserve to the farm of Hosea, where they hid them.
"(Kitalamba and Sindano) also confessed to have killed nine elephants from which they extracted 18 tusks, while Mayai admitted being involved in plucking out tusks from the elephants they had killed, which they subsequently took to Hosea's farm for concealment," they said.
On the part of Hosea, the justices also noted that he too, affirmed being part of the poaching racket and acknowledged that the tusks were concealed at his farm before being transported away.
According to them, indeed, the cautioned statements were repudiated or retracted by the appellants but were rightly relied upon by the courts below along with the evidence of other three prosecution witnesses.
The justices further pointed out that it was noteworthy that Hosea's concubine identified as Zuhura Idd, testified that Kitalamba, Sindano, Malyango and Mayai took the police officers and game rangers to the spot where they had hidden the tusks.
"Her evidence in particular, being that of an independent witness, is unblemished and reliable. It is a single piece of evidence confirming that the tusks were retrieved from the fourth appellant's farm in the presence of the other four appellants who had led the police officers and game rangers to that spot.
"In view of the evidence given, we think that all the appellants retained control over the tusks and thus accordingly each of them had possession of the tusks. All the five appellants were aware of the presence of the tusks in (Hosea)'s farm and thus they exercised control over them," ruled the judges.
There was a testimony suggesting that at the time the tusks were seized, Hosea was absent. In their judgment, however, the justices pointed out that the absence of Hosea at the time the tusks were seized was inconsequential.
"Apart from being aware of the presence of the tusks, the said tusks were concealed in his farm at his invitation and arrangement.
In other words, he had knowledge on the concealment of the tusks in his farm," the justices conclusively said.
On June 13, 2013 at Ilangali Village within Chamwino District in Dodoma Region, the appellants and three other persons, together, were found in possession of government trophies, which are 18 pieces of elephant tusks, valued at 228,825,000/-, the property of the government.
It was in evidence that acting on information received from a whistleblower that Malyango was illegally dealing in government trophies, a contingent of police officers and game rangers went to his home at Ilangali Village arriving there in the wee hours of the morning on June 13, 2014.
According to these witnesses, they found Malyango at home and that after quizzing him he took them to Hosea's farm.
At the farm they got the attention of the Hosea concubine, who also on being interrogated directed the group to a certain hut located within the same farm.
Kitalamba, Sindano and Mayai were found in that hut, and, on being interrogated along with Malyango they led the investigating officers to a nearby spot, also within Hosea's farm, where 18 elephant tusks were retrieved and seized.