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DPRK diplomat expelled from SA for rhino horn trafficking

Xinhua | Updated: 2015-12-24 08:56

CAPE TOWN - A high ranking diplomat working for the embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been expelled from South Africa for alleged rhino horn trafficking, authorities confirmed on Wednesday.

The alleged crime "was committed in Mozambique by the diplomat who was driving a vehicle that had South African diplomatic registration", Nelson Kgwete, spokesperson for the SA Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) told Xinhua.

Nelson did not name the diplomat, but local press reports identified him as Park Chol-jun, a political councillor at the embassy.

Park had quietly left South Africa on December 11, and the DIRCO was informed by the DPRK embassy that the diplomat has returned to North Korea, according to Nelson.

A call to the DPRK Embassy went unanswered.

Park was arrested on May 3 in the Mozambican capital of Maputo for allegedly trafficking 4.5 kilograms of rhino horn.

Law enforcement agents also found 99,300 U.S. dollars in cash in a vehicle in which he was travelling. The car had diplomatic licence plates and was registered to the DPRK embassy in Pretoria.

The South African government last month gave Park a 30-day ultimatum to leave the country, the local news outlet News24 said.

Another North Korean man, Kim Jong Su, was also arrested along with Park.

Mozambican police said the two men were subsequently released on 30 ,000 U.S. dollars bail. According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, Park and Kim returned to South Africa by land shortly afterwards.

South Africa bears the brunt of rhino poaching. The country has lost a total of 749 rhinos between January and August this year.

In 2014, a record 1,215 rhinos were illegally killed in the country. That's one rhino poached every eight hours.

Observers expect the number of rhinos poached this year in South Africa to overtake the 1, 215 of last year despite intensified anti-poaching efforts.

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