Dar es Salaam. Two Chinese poachers were yesterday sentenced to 30 years in jail each or pay a record Sh108.7 billion fine in one of the heaviest sentences aimed at curbing the illegal trade.
The Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court found Xu Fujie, 31, and Huang Gin, 51, guitly of illegally possessing 706 pieces of elephants tusks.
They were each ordered to pay Sh 54.3 billion in fine each or face the lengthy sentence of a whole three decades behind bars.
The jailing of the two is the latest in a series of heavy court judgments that has seen several Chinese and Tanzanians handed long jail sentences.
This appears to be a renewed anti-poaching drive.
Resident Magistrate-in-charge Cyprian Mkeha had to adjourn the court session half way into pronouncing the judgment after one of the accussed, Xu Fujie, nearly collapsed in the dock, apparently shocked by the court’s decision.
The court also ordered the confiscation of the ivory haul, and two cars that belonged to the poachers.
Magistrate Mkeha also convicted the Chinese of attempting to bribe the police and officers from the Wildlife department with Sh30.2 million.
For this, they will serve five years in jail, and pay a Sh 1 million fine. However, the Chinese were acquitted of charges of possessing a bullet cartridge.
Lawyers defending the two -- Edward Chuwa and Nehemia Nkoko -- said they would appeal against the decision.
They cite a number of “shortcomings” in the ruling, including the fact that the money that was used to bribe the police was not tabled in court as evidence.
They also argue that there were disparities in the charge sheet on the number of tusks, which were put at 706, while the number mentioned during the trial was 728.
Magistrate Mkeha said the court had been satisfied with the testimony from nine prosecution witnesses and exhibits.
“Considering the evidence adduced in court and the huge loss that the nation has suffered for the killing of 226 elephants, it is obvious the accused are a real threat to the elephant generation within the boundaries of our country,” said the magistrate.
Evidence provided by nine prosecution witnesses proved the offence beyond all reasonable doubts, he said.
State lawyers Faraja Nchimbi and Paul Kadushi had asked the court to mete out a severe punishment, saying between 2010 and December 2013 a total of 892 elephants were killed in Tanzania national parks.
The convicts entered the country in 2010 and stayed for three years until 2013 when they were arrested at Kifaru Street, Mikocheni B in Kinondoni District, Dar es Salaam.
The duo posed as garlic importers and marine product exporters. The seized tusks were found in sacks of garlic in the house where the two lived.
They had killed, he said, a quarter of all elephants killed in the country between 2010 and 2013.
Mr Nchimbi told the court that there was sufficient reason to believe the two Chinese were ring leaders and financiers of an elephant poaching syndicate in the country.
The dramatic arrest of the convicts was led by the then Tourism minister Khamis Kagasheki, who found the tusks cleverly mixed with shell and garlic to avoid suspicion.
The tusks the duo were caught with weighed 1.8 tonnes and had an estimated value of $3.1 million (Sh5.4 billion).
The 706 pieces of ivory means about 226 elephant were killed to get the haul.
Investigators, neighbours of the Chinese who witnessed the search and wildlife department officers were among the people who testified in the case.
Investigators worked for a month following a tip off that huge quantities of elephant tusks were being ferried from Lindi, Mtwara and Ruvuma regions to Dar es Salaam and sold to Chinese nationals at a Kinondoni Biafra in the city.
The poachers had maintained innocence throughout the hearing of the case.
The lucrative Asian black market for rhino horn, used in traditional medicine, and ivory is blamed for a boom in poaching across Africa.