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The name Arno Smit is inextricably linked to the rhino poaching epidemic in Southern Africa – he and his brother-in-law, Hugo Ras, currently languish in a South African jail on 318 charges relating to the slaughter and mutilation of 24 rhinos and the stealing of 84 horns. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Arno Smit (third from left) alongside fellow accused rhino poachers ©OSCAP
Arno Smit (third from left) alongside fellow accused rhino poachers ©OSCAP

For a fascinating story of Arno Smit’s life of crime and corruption in USA read this entertaining account in California Sunday Magazine.

Here is a summary of ten things you might not know about this rhino poaching kingpin:

1.     He launched his USA crime operation in 2001 by romancing a religious Californian divorcée and convincing her to part with her money on failed business ventures in the livestock industry. The couple broke up after she found Smit at the home of another woman, and she was left saddled with a trail of debt.

2.     His subsequent schemes resulted in fancy cars, private aeroplanes, black-tie events and ‘a gaggle of women’ – the common thread being a lady-love who ends up discarded after being conned out of her money.

3.      Along the way Smit racked up an estimated US$12 million in a massive dairy industry fraud, his modus operandi essentially being to pay for cattle with bouncing cheques and pocket the sale proceeds in order to fund his lavish lifestyle.

4.     One of his victims, a wealthy British widow living in Las Vegas, contacted a private detective after being scammed of US$500,000 – and the true level of deceit and fraud started emerging.

5.     A group of conned farmers roughed Smit up ‘pretty good’ and dumped him at a local hospital, promising that next time, if he did not disappear, they would drop him off at a morgue.

6.     Subsequently Smit, now disguised with a beard and dyed hair and packing a few extra kilograms, teamed up with two other South Africans for another venture in southern California – selling short-term promissory notes – all the while claiming to be developing a golf course in South Africa with Tiger Woods.

7.     The largest arrest warrant in Tulare County history (for US$1m) was issued against Smit in March 2009, and the FBI was also on his trail. But he evaded arrest after fleeing a sting at the local harbour and dumping his speed boat in Long Beach.

8.     That’s when Arno Smit linked up with brother-in-law Hugo Ras, himself a character of ill-repute. South Africans will remember that Ras was linked to the death of an employee killed by a lion, was questioned about the death of a Russian stripper, and has been arrested several times for rhino poaching. Ras is described in this article as the “Teflon Don of the animal poaching world”.

9.     The terrible two fled the USA authorities via Mexico, where Ras was running a panther hunting operation.

10.  Roll forward a few years and a private investigator in South Africa hand-delivered a court order to Arno Smit’s parents at their modest South African farm. South African wheels of justice started turning, and both Arno Smit and Hugo Ras were arrested in September 2014 and are currently in jail with eight accomplices, awaiting trial.

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Simon Espley

I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn