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On Human Rights Day Conservationists Call for Prosecution of Senior Member of South African Judiciary for Corruption Linked to Rhino Poaching and Human Rights Abuses

The Washington DC-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is calling on the Government of South Africa to prosecute Sibusiso Eric Nzimande, Regional Court President of KwaZulu-Natal, for soliciting bribes and committing other acts of corruption that benefitted rhino poachers and the perpetrators of other violent crimes.

EIA has submitted evidence of Mr. Nzimande’s corruption to the United States Government and is pursuing designations under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Section 7031(c) of the annual Department of State Appropriations Act. If designated, Mr. Nzimande could face sanctions in the form of visa restrictions and/or the freezing of any assets that may be held in the United States.

“Mr. Nzimande’s abuse of power as Regional Court President and the lack of any meaningful accountability for his actions has allowed corruption to permeate the judiciary, betrayed the public’s trust in the judicial system, and emboldened criminals by providing pathways for evading justice so long as the right price is paid to the right person,” said Taylor Tench, Senior Wildlife Policy Analyst at EIA.

Mr. Nzimande was provisionally suspended in October 2018 over allegations that he solicited bribes in exchange for securing appointments to acting magistrate positions. Four years have elapsed without any additional disciplinary measures or criminal charges brought against Mr. Nzimande, who continues to receive his government salary, or against the vast majority of the individuals implicated in his corrupt patronage network.

“That Mr. Nzimande has not been made to answer for his crimes of corruption in the face of the overwhelming evidence against him is, frankly, outrageous,” said Tench. “As we await the conclusion of the U.S. Government’s review of the sanctions recommendation package, we strongly urge the South African government to expedite the completion of Mr. Nzimande’s misconduct inquiry and commence the prosecution of crimes that he and others linked to this web of corruption have committed.”

Evidence reviewed by EIA and supplied to U.S. Department of the Treasury appears to indicate that some of these magistrates further spread the rot of corruption throughout the judiciary by soliciting bribes from attorneys in exchange for favorable outcomes for their clients.

Many of the lawyers, prosecutors, and magistrates who made deposits into Nzimande’s bank accounts defended, prosecuted, and oversaw cases involving murder, rape, rhinoceros poaching, and other violent crimes. One of these magistrates also served as the lawyer for alleged rhino poaching kingpin Dumisani Gwala, whose case is currently languishing in the courts of KwaZulu-Natal after dozens of postponements.

“Poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn are the main drivers of declining rhino populations in South Africa,” said Danielle Grabiel, EIA Counsel. “A well-functioning judiciary that upholds the rule of law is imperative to stem the tide of poaching and hold poachers, traffickers, and perpetrators of other serious crimes to account. We hope to see swift action on the part of the South African government to hold Mr. Nzimande accountable and to address the serious concerns about corruption in the courtrooms of KwaZulu-Natal.”

Editors Note

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, as implemented by Executive Order 13818, and Section 7031(c) of the Annual Department of State Appropriations Act provide the United States Government with the authority to block or revoke U.S. visas and freeze all U.S.-based property of foreign individuals and entities that have engaged in violations of human rights or acts of corruption.

More information on the sanctions recommendation package can be found on EIA’s website here.

Contact: Taylor Tench, Senior Wildlife Policy Analyst, Wildlife Campaign, [email protected]