Court hears how ‘kingpins’ were nabbed as case starts
It all started two years ago when a man was arrested for the possession of perlemoen along Marine Drive in Port Elizabeth. From there, police slowly uncovered an alleged multimillion-rand poaching enterprise.
As the racketeering case of Julian Brown, Eugene “Boesman” Victor and Brandon Turner started in the Port Elizabeth High Court yesterday, the prosecution attempted to show how the men were ultimately nabbed.
Investigating officer Captain Kanna Swanepoel said his mandate was to focus on the big money makers and he was never too concerned about the string of employees who carried out the fishing, storage and transportation of the endangered species.
“The level of poaching had become so high, I was given the resources to do this investigation.
“My goal was to catch the person who makes the most money,” Swanepoel told the court.
Brown, 32, Victor, 33, and Turner, 38, pleaded not guilty to charges related to the contravention of the Marine Living Resources Act.
Brown’s defence team – comprising well known legal duo Alwyn Griebenow and Advocate Terry Price SC – called for a trial-within-a-trial to test the admissibility of several search warrants which ultimately led to the arrests of the state’s four Section 204 witnesses.
Price said if these warrants were not lawfully obtained, the evidence of the state witnesses – all alleged to be former employees of Brown – could not be admissible. Without these witnesses, Price submitted, the prosecution had no case.
Victor and Turner, represented by defence attorney Paul Roelofse, opted not to give plea explanations.
Brown, of Jeffreys Bay, and the owner of J&B Construction, said he would deny ever being part of the enterprise.
He denied allegations that he had attempted to obstruct the arrest of his alleged employee, Renier Ellerbeck.
He also denied having laundered illegal proceeds of perlemoen through the purchase of a Ferrari, worth R1.9-million.
“I had no business transaction with Martin Kriel to finance the Ferrari. He did all this to avoid being similarly charged, and then blamed me,” Brown said.
“Each and every one of the [four] state witnesses was arrested after the search of their property. Not one of those search warrants complies with regulations.
“Therefore, the search warrants were unlawful, their cars and houses were searched illegally and the detention of the accused persons was unlawful.”
Brown said the police had applied pressure on these witnesses to implicate him.
“They quite clearly had no choice. It was either ‘implicate him or go to jail’. This amounts to undue influence.”
As in the Panayiotou murder trial, he said despite the men obtaining private representation, Legal Aid SA Advocate Johan van der Spuy had been brought on board to advise them to turn state witness.
Brown, dressed in a navy suit and tie, sat to one side of the dock and jotted down notes as Swanepoel gave evidence.
Victor took everyone by surprise when he appeared in court yesterday having lost close to 80kg.
Swanepoel said his investigation had begun shortly after March 2015, when Ellerbeck was bust along Marine Drive with 218 units of perlemoen. A police chase ensued, which Brown allegedly tried to block with his own vehicle.
Swanepoel said Ellerbeck had later approached him in the court holding cells and intimated he wanted to cut a deal with the state.
He officially became a Section 204 witness in January last year.
Similarly, JP van Zyl and Jan Smuts – all arrested in the months that followed – would testify for the state in hopes of gaining immunity from prosecution.
Another witness, Edgar Clulow, who was initially charged alongside Brown, Victor and Turner, pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering and is also expected to testify for the state.
Swanepoel said each employee had a specific role, whether it was fishing, cleaning, storing, transporting or selling the perlemoen. They all operated on a need-toknow basis.
“For instance, the person doing the diving would not know where the storage house was. This was all for safety reasons.”
He said the investigation had started with a regular perlemoen case when Ellerbeck was arrested.
“I paid close attention to the ordinary perlemoen cases and a lot of what was in those dockets became relevant in this case.” A pattern started to emerge. In relation to the money laundering charge against Brown, the state claims he visited a second-hand car dealer in September 2015 and expressed interest in a Ferrari California.
Later that month, he allegedly asked Martin Kriel to buy the flashy vehicle and register it in his name in lieu of a payment of R502 000 in cash.
Brown said the remainder would be paid in cash to Kriel in monthly instalments.
The trial continues today.
Kathryn Kimberley – HeraldLIVE