The Slovak Government paid a fine of Rs 10.85 million imposed on five Slovak nationals found guilty of illegally collecting endemic animal and plant species from the Sinharaja Rainforest.

Environmentalists say the fine is the largest ever imposed under the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance.

Slovak Government Officials, who were present in court on behalf of the five men, paid the fine imposed on them and secured their release. The officials had come from the Slovak embassy in New Delhi.

Kalawana Magistrate Dulan Weerawardena imposed the fine after the five men pleaded guilty to 37 charges filed against them under the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance.

However, the Magistrate rejected a request made by the Wildlife Conservation Department to impose an order prohibiting the Slovaks from entering the country again. The department requested that a travel ban be imposed on the grounds that the five men’s professions had not been established.   The Magistrate rejected the request for a travel ban, stating that the court had no jurisdiction to do so, and directed the department to make its request to the relevant authority.

In addition to the fine, the Magistrate also imposed three months rigorous imprisonment, suspended for 10 years, on each of the accused.

Among the species found in the possession of the five Slovaks were 771 butterflies, 46 beetles and several spiders.

Wildlife Department’s Kalawana Sector Ranger Lakshman Rathnaweera told court that the nature of the equipment and chemicals used by the accused to collect and store the plants and animals native to Sri Lanka, indicated that they could be a group of zoologists and botanists. Mr Rathnaweera also said it was suspicious as to why the accused were not forthcoming about their professions.

It was also revealed that one of the accused had visited Sri Lanka previously in 2016.

The Magistrate ordered the confiscation of their equipment, except for one personal camera. He also granted a request by the Wildlife Department to hand over the animal and plant parts recovered from the accused to the Department of National Museums.

The Slovak’s Attorney, Tharindu Arawwala, appealed that his clients be shown leniency on the grounds they had pleaded guilty to the charges in the first instance.

The Magistrate postponed the case for March 26, to hear submissions in order to take a decision on the vehicle used by the five men.

Wildlife Rangers Lakshman Rathnaweera and Manoj Bandaranayake appeared for the prosecution.