The Mangochi Senior Grade Magistrate court has on Friday convicted and fined four Chinese Nationals a total of MK13 million for illegally fishing endangered Cichlid fish (Mbuna) in Lake Malawi National Park.
The four Cui Xu (51), Wu Zhou (40), Hong Peng (38) and Hai Jang (29) were arrested on November 17 and charged with illegal harvesting of protected species (Cichlid).
Passing judgement, magistrate Nkhono said the state had asked for a custodial sentence but the defense mitigated to pay a fine.
“The government has recently amended laws for National Parks and Wild Life in order to protect wildlife which are endangered by human beings, let me agree with the state that the act has impact on tourism sector, since the fish attracts tourists," Nkhono said.
He added: “The defense mitigated that the court must consider ages in giving out its ruling, the convicts pleaded guilty which did not waste time and resources of the state and also shows remorse, there is no evidence that they conducted the act for commercial purposes, they are first offenders”.
Giving out his ruling, SRM Nkhono said the four must pay MK 250,000 each on first count of entering the protected area without permission, or in default serves 18 months imprisonment with hard labor (IHL).
On the second count of being found in possession of specimen of endangered species without license, the court sentenced a fine of MK12 million collectively.
“The laws highlights that the fine should not be lesser than the value of the items, and the morphological report indicates that total value of the fish is 12 Million Malawi Kwacha,” Nkhono said.
He also revealed that two thirds of the fine, will be directed to the Lake Malawi National Park for the preservation of ‘Mbuna’ fish.
Defense counsel Jai Banda said he is delighted that his clients are now out after being held on remand for a month.
“I am happy that my clients are out, and we have already paid the fine," Banda explained.
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife arrested the four after being found illegally fishing the endangered species, in Lake Malawi National Park.
The four are staff members of Furen Group Limited situated in Limbe, Blantyre.
A statement by assistant parks officer, Emma Banda highlighted that Lake Malawi National Park law enforcement officers received a tip that the four were illegally fishing Cichlid from the park.
“At around 15:40 pm on November 17, 2019 Lake Malawi National Park law enforcement officers received a tip about four Chinese nationals that were in possession of the strictly protected Cichlid fish from the park’s protected area.
“When quizzed, the suspects started to run away but were quickly arrested by the park’s law enforcement officers,” said Banda.
The four were later denied bail and have spent a month in jail as the magistrate handling the case had said they were a flight risk.
Malawi government has launched a strong campaign supported by its development partners to protect its wildlife and stop poaching.