, DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Feb 12 – Four Tanzanians facing trial for the murder of a British conservationist whose helicopter was shot down have been jailed for 20 years for possessing firearms, lawyers said Friday.
Roger Gower, 37, died when suspected poachers gunned down his helicopter during a patrol of the Maswa Game Reserve in northern Tanzania, close to the world famous Serengeti National Park, on January 29.
Photographs of the crashed helicopter show twisted metal, apparent bullet holes in the fuselage and smears of blood on the pilot’s seat.
Four men have been charged with Gower’s murder: Shija Mjika, 38, Njile Gunga, 28, Dotto Pangali, 42, and Moses Mandago, 28.
Although they face murder trial in the high court, on Thursday they were found guilty of the possession of guns and ammunition at a separate hearing.
“The suspects pleaded guilty of being in unlawful possession of firearms and rounds of ammunition,” said senior government prosecutor Yamiko Mlekano.
“The court on Thursday sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment each for possessing firearms, and 20 years each for being found with ammunition.” The sentences will run concurrently.
They have not yet entered any plea concerning the murder charges, which carries a potential death sentence if found guilty, although Tanzania has not carried out capital punishment for decades, with scores of prisoners in jail on death row.
Gower, who worked for the Friedkin Conservation Fund, had been tracking poachers after spotting the carcasses of recently killed elephants.
It is estimated that more than 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year across Africa.
Their ivory is prized for jewellery and decorative objects and much of it is smuggled to China, where many increasingly wealthy shoppers are buying ivory trinkets as a sign of financial success.