Duc Manh Chu was arrested at the OR Tambo International Airport last year after he was found with 12 rhino horns, said Rynette Coetzee from the trust law and policy programme.
He was sentenced at the Kempton Park Regional Court to 10 years in jail for illegal possession of the horns and an additional two years in jail for fraud.
He was sentenced under Section 57 (1) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, Act 10 2004 (Nemba) as well as fraud in terms of the Customs and Excise Act, Act 91 of 1964.
“The full sentence is therefore 12 years imprisonment with no option of a fine. This is the highest penalty handed down for a biodiversity crime to date under Nemba,” said Coetzee.
Phi Hung Nguyeng, also arrested last year at the same airport, was sentenced to six years in jail for possession of six rhino horns and a further two years for fraud, under the same laws.
Magistrate Prince Manyathi warned that it made no difference whether a person was caught killing a rhino or carrying rhino horn. The same penalty would be handed down.
According to Coetzee, he told the court he did not want to one day only be able to show his grandchildren pictures of rhinos as they had all been killed.
Coetzee applauded the excellent work of all those who worked on the case.
“We recognise that conservationists are not just those lucky enough to work on game reserves, but includes all people who are committed to conserving our natural heritage and protecting our wildlife from illegal trade and poaching.
“South Africa has excellent environmental legislation, and strong enforcement of these laws forms a critical component of a national conservation movement.”