“Chumlong Lemtongthai is the only person who has been formally charged in connection to the alleged syndicate, but investigations are continuing,” said Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay.
Lemtongthai, 43, last appeared in court on July 22.
He was arrested after John Olivier, a Thai Airways manager who allegedly worked with the syndicate, decided to inform authorities of the syndicate’s activities.
Olivier told police that a game farmer, Marnus Steyl, would apparently source rhinos for “canned hunting”, then inform Lemtongthai.
Steyl told the Beeld that his role was entirely above board.
Lemtongthai then allegedly contacted Punpitak Chunchom, telling him that “hunters” were needed to shoot the rhino.
Chunchom – who has since left South Africa after pleading guilty to illegal possession of lion bones – would recruit Thai strippers and prostitutes to pose with the rhino carcasses.
Lemtongthai allegedly organised permits and covered the costs of the operation.
The horns would be dried and ‘sold’ to front company Xaysavang Trading Export Import – owned by Lemtongthai – for about R65 000 per kilogram. They would then be sold on the Asian black market form between $35 000 (about R247 900) and $55 000 (about R389 600).
By this method, loopholes in legislation allowing ‘trophy hunting’ and regulations limiting hunting to one rhino a year per hunter were exploited to supply rhino horns.
Gender and environmental activists were gathered at the court ahead of Lemtongthai’s bail application.
The ANC Women’s League displayed placards reading “Real Men Don’t Shoot Rhinos”.
An animal rights group held up gory pictures of butchered rhino carcasses.