The Lin-Zhang syndicate, believed to be one of Southern Africa's most prolific wildlife trafficking gangs, is in the process of being dismantled by authorities in Malawi.
Having been found guilty of at least one wildlife trafficking offence of a listed or protected species, nine members the Lin-Zhang syndicate were expected to be sentenced on Friday, 17 July, but the sentencing has been adjourned to Monday, 20 July.
According to documents seen by Nyasa Times, the court did not pass the sentence as it was discovered that the 9th accused person did not present his mitigation as he was not represented.
"The arrangements yesterday was that the convict was going to make mitigations in the morning hours and later in the afternoon the court was going to pass the sentence for all the 9 accused persons," reads the documents in part.
In addition, the transfer of female prisoners from Lilongwe to Mzuzu prison also affected the sentencing.
"Yesterday, on Thursday we got communication that all female prisoners have been transferred to different prisons as their cells are being used as isolation center for covid 19 patients. So Lin's wife who is a convict in the 2017 case and a convict in this case was transferred to Mzuzu prison.
"We made all the arrangements to bring her to Lilongwe court after confirmation from the court that sentence is ready only to come to court and got disappointed," bemoaned Department of Wildlife and Parks Director Brighton Kumchedwa.
Mrs Qinhua Zhang was convicted of possession of rhino horn and an illegal firearm following her arrest as part of a series of coordinated raids in May, 2019.
Zhang is the wife of Yunhua Lin, the alleged kingpin of the syndicate, who was arrested in August last year following a three-month manhunt.
Others awaiting sentencing are Mrs Zhang's brothers Guozhong Zhang and Guohua Zhang, her son-in-law Li Hao Yuan, and three others Yanwu Zhuo, Yashen Zhuo, Jinfu Zheng as well as two Malawian nationals namely Cosmas Sakugwa and Steven Daza.
Mrs Zhang husband, Yunhua Lin will appear in court on 22 July on a case to answer for possession of rhino horn, conspiracy, and money laundering.
The Lin-Zhang syndicate is an organised crime network that has been operating in Malawi for at least a decade.
In total, 14 members of the syndicate were apprehended last year. Of the remaining syndicate members arrested in May 2019, one Chinese and two Malawian nationals - Cheng Qiang, James Mkwezalamba, and Julius Sanudia - have each been sentenced to 3 years in prison for possession of live pangolins or pangolin scales.
One more Chinese national, Shine He, has pleaded not guilty to possession of ammunition and explosives, and his trial is ongoing.