902m/- Rhino horns related plea rejected (Tanzania)

Faustine Kapama, The Tanzania Daily News | September 9, 2019

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The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal by a Chinese, Song Lei, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and payment of over 6bn/- fine for unlawful dealing and possession of 11 rhino horns worth 902m/- smuggled into Tanzania from Malawi.

Justices Stella Mugasha, Gerald Ndika and Barkeh Sahel, agreed with the prosecution that, on the basis of cumulative evidence of the prosecution, it was proved beyond a speck of doubt that, Song Lei was actually found in possession of the rhino horns in a secret chamber of a motor vehicle he was driving.

“As for Song Lei’s appeal we do not find cogent reasons to vary the concurrent findings of the courts below because the charges were proved beyond reasonable doubt and as such his appeal is without merit and it is dismissed,” the justices declared.

In their judgment, however, the justices acquitted three other Chinese Xiao Shaodan, Chen Jianlin and Hu Liang, who were acquitted by the trial court for lack of evidence and found no cogent reasons to vary the verdict of the first appellate court in respect of the trio.

They rejected the appeal presented by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who had been challenging the acquittal of the three Chinese after they were satisfied that the prosecution had not sufficiently discharged its burden of proof. Moreover, the justices noted that the trio’s account which is to the effect that they were mere passengers as tourists on the way to see Mount Kilimanjaro did cloud the prosecution’s case with a shadow of doubt.

The movement of the trio from where the car found with the government trophies was stopped at Kasumulu in Mbeya to Kyela District did not sufficiently establish that they had knowledge of existence of the rhino horns in the vehicle over which they had no control.

“On that account, it is highly unsafe to ground a conviction on suspicion, however grave. We are satisfied that, the prosecution did not prove charges against the other three Chinese and concluded that the DPP’s appeal was not merited and dismissed the same in its entirety,” they also declared.

Before the Resident Magistrate’s Court at Mbeya, the four foreigners were charged with an economic case containing three counts of leading organized crime, unlawful dealing in trophies and unlawful possession of government trophies. After a full trial, all accused persons were convicted as charged and sentenced to 15 years in jail for leading organized crime, a fine of USD 836,000 or three years in default for unlawful dealing in trophy and 20 years in jail and fine of USD 4,180,000 for unlawful possession of government trophies.

The convicts appealed to the High Court, which allowed the appeal in respect of Xiao Shaodan, Chen Jianlin and Hu Liang. Song Lei’s appeal was allowed on the count of leading organized crime only, but failed in respect of the other remaining two charges.