HUGO RAS - HUNTER AND SUSPECTED RHINO POACHING KINGPIN
Main Information source: Julian Rademeyer, author of 'Killing for Profit'
Hugo Ras, the owner of a hunting safari company and game farm, has been in court on numerous occasions. Ras has been convicted on at least 20 charges between 2000 and 2009, these include nature conservation charges, numerous charges involving illegal hunting and importing of game, crimen injuria, assault and the possession of an unlicensed firearm.
In 2004, the Mail & Guardian newspaper reported that a bull elephant, one of four Ras had purchased from the Kruger National Park had been hunted by an oil magnate from Texas within hours of its arrival on a game farm near Rustenburg in the North West province of South Africa. The elephants had been sold to Ras on condition that they would not be hunted. When asked about the shooting of the elephant Ras claimed the bull was shot after it broke out of camp.
In 2005 Ras was charged with murder after a contractor that was working on his farm was killed by a lion. The charge was eventually dropped. Later that year Ras had another charge laid against him for assault, he was convicted and fined.
In August 2011, Hugo Ras was once again arrested when police raided his three-storey home in Magalieskruin in northern Pretoria. The police had obtained a warrant to search his house because they wanted to talk to Ras about the murder of Lana Muratava, a Russian stripper who had gone missing in November 2010. She was last seen alive with a man in a white Land Cruiser and Ras owned one. Her dead body was later found dumped in a ditch next to a road in Hammanskraal.
During the search of his house, investigators found an unlicensed firearm and large quantities of M99, a powerful anaesthetic used to dart rhinos and other big animals. M99 is fatal to humans and it is therefore illegal to be in possession of the drug without proper documentation
Due to a lack of evidence Ras was not charged for the murder of Lana Muratava, but him and seven others, including three veterinarians, faced provisional charges for the illegal distribution of M99.
‘When he was asked about Lana Muratava, Ras said that she acted as an interpreter for him for when he had Russian clients on his farm. He said when asked about her 'I decided to make a plan and get a girl who interprets and screws. She makes more money and there is one less person in the Land Cruiser when we go out hunting.'
The next time Ras was arrested was on the 19 September 2014. He was apprehended while appearing in court for an earlier poaching related case, one that had been dragging on since 2011.
Ras and nine others were arrested because they were suspected members of a rhino poaching syndicate that had been under investigation for a year. The syndicate, which operated in five of South Africa’s nine provinces, were accused of being involved in the slaughter and mutilation of 24 rhinos. These rhinos were killed and mutilated on state and privately owned game reserves between 2008 and 2012. Two of these rhinos survived, but both were horribly disfigured. They were also accused of stealing 84 rhino horns or acquiring them by other 'devious means'.
The 10 syndicate members together were facing 318 charges, they included charges of racketeering, theft, fraud, malicious damage to property (killing and mutilating of the rhinos), money laundering, intimidation, and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The accused included Ras's wife Trudie, his brother Anton, Joseph Wilkinson, an attorney who had represented Ras,, a game capture pilot, Bonnie Steyn, a hunter who did most of the killings, Mandla Magagula, and, significantly, a warrant officer in the Hawks, Willie Oosthuizen. Eight of the ten suspects were later released on bail. Ras and his brother-in-law, Abraham Smit, were denied bail and are in jail awaiting their trial.
Abraham Smit, Ras's brother-in-law, besides being accused of being involved in the syndicate, is also wanted in the US on six charges of wire fraud. Ras faces 248 charges, including a charge of racketeering, the unlawful possession of scheduled medicine, the receipt of two elephant tusks and a large number of charges relating to rhino poaching.
Only 2 of the 10 members of the syndicate, namely Hugo Ras and his brother-in-law Arno Smit remain in jail pending the start of the trial.
One of the witnesses who gave evidence, Colonel Jooste, said in an affidavit that he had evidence that proves Ras had threatened a person with assault and that he had offered to kill a female magistrate who had presided in the 2011 bail hearing of a co-accused and told another witness that he was going to kill her boss.
Hugo Ras, as you can gather from the above, is a man prepared to do whatever it takes to make money, threatening to kill people and murdering animals seems to come naturally to him. This is not the first Hunter to get involved in rhino poaching, the links between poaching and South African professional hunters is a sign that the two worlds are linked far too frequently. Let's just hope he remains behind bars, and that his co-accused join him.