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The Maun magistrate court has convicted two former Mababe Trust employees alongside another resident for the charge of illegal possession of two elephant tusks.
Bail for the trio, Kago Obiditswe, Godfrey Pekenene and Alec Charles was subsequently revoked following their conviction and pending sentence.
They were allegedly busted by the police at Mawana veterinary gate on the 14th August 2020 in possession of the tusks weighing 45.4kg. The trio got arrested following a police tip-off and at the time Obiditswe and Pekenene where employed by Mababe Trust as an escort guide and reservations officer respectively.
Information presented before court is that the accused persons had on that fateful day hired a Toyota Land Cruiser at a price of P1300 to transport the tusks from Mababe to Maun. They were however reportedly busted at the gate at around 7 pm after conducting veterinary formalities and were about to board the car headed for Maun.
Delivering the verdict presiding magistrate, Keneilwe Kgoadi concluded that the prosecution has fully proved their case beyond reasonable doubt that the trio is guilty of the offence. She noted that trained trust employees and residents of Mababe are equipped on how to handle wildlife trophy, therefore they should not expect the court to take their ignorance of the law as an excuse.
She noted that the second accused person travelled from Maun to Mababe with his other colleagues but failed to disclose the tusks which during cross examination, it was revealed that they had them for four days before the arrest.
“The trio used a safari style model land cruiser which had ample open space at the back, however they opted to put the tusks behind the front seat and covered it with a bag, this is a clear indication that they were in a mission to conceal the tusks,” Kgoadi said.
Kgoadi said the accused persons had the opportunity to first report the tusks to the trust office where the first and second accused persons where employed, and also at the veterinary gate veterinary staff, a procedure which they failed to execute.
“None of the three had permission and authorisation to handle or transport the tusks as such their possession of them was unlawful and I therefore find the accused persons guilty of illegal possession of elephant tusks,” Kgoadi ruled.
During their mitigation, the accused persons prayed for lesser sentences. Charles said he has a small stock business which he uses to take care of his old aged mother while Obiditswe said he is the sole provider for his mother and orphaned nephew.
Pekenene said he the sole provider for his old aged mother whom he claims he has since left with the neighbours when coming to court. Obiditswe further pleaded that if given a lesser sentence he believes he can contribute largely on the conservation of natural resources in Botswana.
During trial, the first accused person (Charles) who opted to give unsworn testimony claimed that they were taking the tusks to relevant authorities, whereas the second and third accused persons opted to remain silent.
The Investigating Officer (IO) Assistant Superintendent Keotshwaretse Molathegi previously told court that the tusks were discovered under the car seats covered with suit and travel bags, an act which she argued indicated that the accused persons had other plans about the tusks apart from taking them to relevant authorities.
“If they were to take the tusks to the department of wildlife, they should have upon their arrival at the gate informed the veterinary officer who was on duty and they should have also kept them in a place where one can see them, instead of hiding them,” Molatlhegi previously argued. The accused persons will appear on the 20th April 2023 for sentencing.