THE two elephant tusks that were confiscated during the arrest of three Walvis Bay residents at the end of August originated in Botswana from an animal that was hunted as a trophy 20 years ago.
During their formal bail application in the Walvis Bay Magistrate’s Court Dirk Vermeulen, Edgar Clark and Michael Lusse all testified that they never knew where the tusks, weighing a total of 64 kilograms and is estimated to be worth N$103 072, originated from.
All of them testified that they were under the impression that the previous owner of the tusks had a permit to keep the ivory that was found in their possession.
Dirk Vermeulen testified that he lost his job about seven months ago and that he had been without an income which made him desperate for cash.
“Accused number three, Mike Lusse told me that he had two elephant tusks in his possession that he wanted to get rid of. When I fell on hard times I approached him and offered to remove the tusks from his home. I thought I would be able to make some money by selling them,” he told the court.
Vermeulen testified that he stored the tusks in his garage and roped Clark in to help him find a buyer for the tusks.
Edgar Clark testified that he only saw the tusks once when Vermeulen showed it to him. He said he took pictures of it with his phone and started looking for potential buyers. He further testified that the next time he saw the tusks was when he was arrested by police officers at the home of Vermeulen. He testified that he never had the tusks in his possession and that he did not know that he needed a permit to find a buyer for it.
Lusse testified that he got the tusks from a friend he identified as Bryce Edwards, who was a former mayor of Walvis Bay, seven years ago.
“Bryce Edwards told me that the permit for the tusks had expired and asked me to keep it for him while he organised a new permit. At the time Edwards moved to Cape Town and shortly afterwards passed on leaving me with the tusks.”
Lusse said he did not know Edwards’s family and could not contact any of them to give the tusks back to them.
He said he spoke to Vermeulen about getting rid of the tusks at some stage and that his co-accused later approached him to take them over from him.
“I never traded in elephant tusks. I had it in my possession since 2012 and if wanted to I could have sold them. Instead I gave the tusks to Vermeulen to do with it what he wanted.”
All of the applicants admitted in court that they are aware of the seriousness of the charges they face but all kept to their testimony that they were under the impression that the tusks had permit that only had to be renewed.
The tale of the tusks came out during the testimony of the Investigating Officer in the matter.
Sargeant Stefanus Frans testified that after the arrest of the three suspects the tusks were traced to its original owner who also passed away in Cape Town early in the 2000’s. He said that the tusks had a permit at one stage but that it expired after the death of the original owner.
The original owner who took the tusks as a trophy in Botswana 20 years ago worked at the same fishing factory that Edwards used work for. When the owner moved to Cape Town he requested Edwards to bring the tusks down on one of the factory’s fishing vessels.
The tusks were loaded aboard the vessel and when it stopped off at Lüderitz the police arrested the skipper and the crew of the vessel when they found the tusks in the hold.
At the time the tusks still had a valid permit and after spending some time in the police holding cells in Lüderitz, the matter was withdrawn and the tusks signed over to the lawyer that represented the boat crew.
The lawyer handed the tusks back to Edwards who kept the tusks in Walvis Bay until he moved to Cape Town in 2012.
Sergeant Frans testified that the investigative team still need to get solid confirmation of the death of Edwards from Cape Town to finalise the investigation and indicated that it would take about two months to do so.
Petrus Strauss who represents Lusse applied to the court to allow his client to be transferred to a frail care facility because he underwent a knee replacement surgery recently.
Magistrate John Sindano ruled that the applicant may be taken to hospital where he would be placed under police guard while he recuperates from the knee surgery.
The State’s witness still has to be cross examined by the lawyers representing the accused persons and the matter was postponed until Friday morning for the formal bail application to continue.