Bail for alleged ivory traffickers

Dirk Vermeulen (50), Edgar Clarke (47) and Michael (Mike Lusse) (60), were each granted bail of N$30 000 in the Walvis Bay magistrate’s court on Friday after a nearly two days bail application hearing.

The trio was arrested by the Namibian Police’s unit for protective resources in Walvis Bay respectively on 31 August (Vermeulen and Clarke) and Lusse only days later at the beginning of September when they allegedly attempted to sell to elephant tusks, weighing a total of 63,5 kg to undercover police officers posing as illegal ivory traders.
They face charges relating to the illegal possession of a protected wildlife product (ivory) and the illegal trade of ivory.
In the bail application all three the accused admitted they made “a mistake” in being in possession of ivory and selling the ivory without a permit.
However, despite these “admissions” the permit issue is expected to now feature centrally in the trio’s criminal trial that is to follow in the months to come soonest the Police finalise the investigation into the issue.
Based on evidence before court by the accused and by the lead detective in the case, Sergeant Frans, the tusks originated from a trophy hunt near Maun in 1999. The tusks were each engraved with the code “Maun” and unique three digit numbers. A permit for the two tusks was issued in the name of certain Mr. Hainson, who for many years worked as a fish factory manager in Walvis Bay before locating to Cape Town for his retirement in the same year.
Also in 1999, Mr. Hainson requested a long-time friend of him, Mr. Bryce Edwards, to transport the tusks for him to Cape Town. Mr. Edwards, a well-known former resident of Walvis Bay and also the mayor of the harbour town, agreed to do so.
The tusks were loaded aboard the fishing vessel “Emerald Isle”. Mr. Edwards was the owner of Emerald Isle and sold it to a new owner in Cape Town. The vessel sailed for Cape Town, with Mr. Piet Basson as the skipper.
En route to Cape Town, the vessel passed Lüderitz and was intercepted by police officers of Nampol’s protective resources unit stationed there. A search of the vessel yielded the two tusks. The entire crew was arrested and the skipper Mr. Basson charged with ivory smuggling.
Mr. Edwards solicited the legal services of Walvis Bay based lawyer Jan Olivier who only days later secured bail for the crew and the skipper Mr. Basson. Basson was according to what was testified in court the only person who ended up being criminally charged.
Several weeks after the docket (CR/xxxx/1999) was submitted to the Prosecutor-General Advocate Hans Heyman, the unexpected occurred. The State withdrew the case as it was established there is a permit for the two tusks, in the name of Mr. Hainson. Despite the case withdrawn it was said at the time that it cost the Edwards family a large sum of money in legal costs, the fact that the crew were hauled up in a hotel at Lüderitz for a considerable amount of time, not to mention the fact that Mr. Edwards had to pay penalties as it took several weeks before Emerald Isle was delivered to her new owner.
After the case was withdrawn, the tusks were returned to Mr. Jan Olivier who brought the tusks back to Walvis Bay and handed it over to Mr. Edwards. Edwards again undertook to “unite” the tusks with Mr. Hainson in Cape Town.
The saga again took a new turn. Mr. Hainson died in Cape Town. Mr. Edwards in time got permission from the family of the late Mr. Hainson to obtain a permit in his name for the tusks.
It seems around 2012 the permit was still in the late Mr. Hainson’s name. According to testimony by Mr. Mike Lusse in his bail application, Mr. Edwards approached him and requested him to keep the tusks with him [Lusse] in Walvis Bay, as Mr. Edwards was in the process to “renew” the permit for the tusks.
Once again the saga took a new turn. Mr. Edwards also relocated to Cape Town where he died after falling from a staircase at his workshop in Montague Gardens.
Dirk Vermeulen testified in his bail application that Lusse approached him some months ago to “get rid” of the tusks. Vermeulen could not elaborate what Lusse meant by these words, but the curtain finally came down on these two “unlucky tusks” when on 31 August when Vermeulen and Clarke allegedly sold the tusks to the undercover policemen.
That would now be the second time the tusks form part of criminal proceedings, costing many people dearly in legal costs and other related monetary losses over a span of 20 years.
Note: It was made clear by the defense council (lawyers Jan Wessels (for Clarke), Nathan Knittle (for Vermeulen) and Petrus Strauss (for Lusse) although all three the accused admitted to making a mistake of some sort, neither admitted that they were either illegally in possession of the tusks nor that they were dealing in illicit ivory.
Magistrate Sindano said he views this is a serious case and that the accused were “ready” to trade in ivory which they knew was illegal. Hence he set the bail amounts very high at N$30 000 to send the message clear: the dealing in protected wildlife products is a serious offense.

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