Zimbabwe still plans to ask the U.S. to extradite the Twin Cities big-game hunter who shot the famed African lion Cecil, but not until the police send over charges, an official of the African nation said Friday.
A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s top prosecuting authority said the agency is still waiting for police in Zimbabwe to send them charging documents in the case of Walter J. Palmer, as well as the police request for extradition.
Allen Chifokoyo, corporate affairs manager for the National Prosecuting Authority of Zimbabwe, told the Star Tribune that the police are supposed to write to the prosecutor general asking him to apply to the U.S. for extradition.
“The police have not yet initiated that process and hence no request for extradition has been made to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Chifokoyo said in an e-mail.
The Star Tribune could not reach the Magistrates Court in the town of Hwange. That’s where charges against the professional hunter whom Palmer hired, Theo Bronkhorst, were filed last month.
Palmer shot Cecil on a nighttime hunt in early July on a farm outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a large game reserve where the lion lived. There was no permit to shoot a lion on the private land.
Palmer, a 55-year-old dentist from Eden Prairie, has said he thought everything about the hunt, for which he paid about $50,000, was proper and legal. He has expressed regret.
Bronkhorst runs Bushman Safaris and was charged in July in Zimbabwe with “failing to prevent an illegal hunt.” He has pleaded not guilty and his trial has been postponed to Sept. 28.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, vented frustration over the delay in charging Palmer.
“What seems to be the problem?” Rodrigues said in an interview Friday. “I really believe these guys are going to get away with it.”
Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at the Humane Society of the United States, said she was “not entirely surprised” that charges against Palmer have not yet been filed.
“I wonder if they are seeing how strong their case is against the local guide first,” Frostic said.
Jens David Ohlin, an authority in international and criminal law at Cornell University, agreed. Bronkhorst’s testimony will be important in Palmer’s case, Ohlin said.
“I can tell you generically there’s not always something to be gained by moving quickly and charging someone immediately,” he said.
I-35W overpass protest
Although the initial furor over Cecil’s death has quieted, on Friday afternoon about 20 protesters gathered in south Minneapolis, standing on the 46th Street overpass across Interstate 35W holding signs reading: “Do what’s right, extradite!” and “#Cecil”.
They got a few honks and waves of support, although one woman leaned out her window to yell: “Leave him alone!”
Organizer Dallas Rising, head of the Minneapolis-based Animal Rights Coalition, said her group doesn’t want any charges against Palmer delayed. “Right now, it sends a message that if you have enough money, you don’t have to follow the law,” she said.
The hunting scandal triggered outrage around the world, and Palmer has avoided contact with the media aside from a single statement. His dental practice is closed and he has not been at his house in Eden Prairie.
This past week, vandals spray-painted “LION Killer!” across the garage door of his vacation home on Florida’s Marco Island and left pigs’ feet covered in hot sauce in the driveway.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the hunt for possible violations of the Lacey Act, a federal law used to prosecute illegal trafficking in a wide range of wildlife. However, the law may not apply if the hunting “trophy” was not shipped to the U.S.
The U.S. has a broad extradition treaty with Zimbabwe, but it might not follow through with an extradition request due to humanitarian concerns.
The U.S. maintains sanctions on about 170 people and companies in Zimbabwe associated with President Robert Mugabe’s government, sanctions first imposed in 2003 following violent and fraudulent elections. Among those sanctioned is Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana, head of the National Prosecuting Authority of Zimbabwe.
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