Thai hookers paid to smuggle S.African rhino horns: reports
A Thai man hired prostitutes to smuggle poached rhino horns disguised as legal hunting trophies from South Africa to supply the Asian black market, media said Friday.
Chumlong Lemtongthai, 43, who was arrested last week outside Johannesburg, was part of a syndicate alleged to have sold at least 40 rhino horns, the weekly Mail & Guardian and the daily Beeld reported.
The revelation came from a South African manager for Thai Airways, John Oliviers, who worked with Chumlong but then turned whistle-blower and informed the police, the papers said.
Olivier told police that Marnus Steyl, a South African wildlife trader, bought rhinos from auctions and private owners and took them to his farms where the animals were killed soon after their arrival, the paper said.
"Once the rhinos were established on Steyl's farm, he would call Lemtongthai and tell him how many animals were in place for a 'hunt'," read Olivier's statement, according to the Mail & Guardian.
South Africa allows a limited number of legal rhino hunts, but each person is allowed only one kill per year.
Friends, strippers and prostitutes were paid 5,000 rands ($740, 514 euros) to pose as hunters and export the horns, the papers said.
Each horn was taken to a taxidermist, who mounted it on a shield to look like a hunting trophy.
"The trophy is just a cover for getting the horn out of South Africa and into Asia. Once in Asia, it obviously would enter the black market as rhino horn for 'medicinal purposes'. The person allegedly 'hunting' the rhino would never see the animal or its horn again," Olivier's statement reportedly said.
Chumlong paid 65,000 rands a kilo for the horns and sold them for $55,000 (380,000 rands) a kilo, the papers said.
With the average horn weighing five kilos, he made more than $8.9 million in profit on the 40 rhinos shot to date, they said.
South African national parks officials say rhino poaching has risen from 13 cases in 2007 to a record 333 last year and 222 so far this year.
© 2011 AFP