Accused ‘pressurised’ to plead guilty

2012-10-11 00:00

DURBAN man Rajiv Sewnarain (44), who alleges he was pressurised into falsely pleading guilty to the murder of his wife, Shanaaz, in December 2010, has applied for bail so that he can reopen his panel beating business and pay for litigation he hopes will prove his innocence.

In an affidavit in support of his bail application in the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday, Sewnarain said he still has a close bond with his two teenage children, who support his bail application and believe that he is innocent.

“They do not believe that I could have premeditatively murdered their mother. They have all along asserted my innocence to my wife’s relatives and they still do so,” he said.

He said he’d used R180 000 which was the share he’d received of the sale of his house to fund the initial application for a review of his conviction.

His business, Jimmy’s Truck and Bus (building bus bodies) closed down after his incarceration, but he was owed in the region of R500 000 by customers who took advantage and failed to pay when he was jailed.

If he is released, he will try to recover that money, he said.

Sewnarain said his right wrist had been injured in a car crash in 2009, and due to his partial disability, he’d been paid around R71 000 per month under an insurance policy.

The payments stopped when he went to jail, but if he is released and medical assessments confirm that he is still disabled, he can pursue a claim for a further lump sum payment for more than R800 000.

Sewnarain said, on the death of his wife, R3,5 million was paid out in life insurance policies.

That money is being held in a trust by the insurance company for the benefit of their children as he was disqualified from benefiting.

High court judges Kevin Swain and Jacqui Henriques have ordered that oral evidence be heard to determine Sewnarain’s claims that he was not in a mentally fit state when he pleaded guilty to murdering his wife by staging a hijacking on December 10, 2010.

He is currently serving a life sentence.

State advocate Attie Truter told the court yesterday when oral evidence was led that the state will lead the evidence of at least two medical experts who will assess Sewnarain’s claims, and it was unlikely the matter could proceed before the middle of next year.

Truter said the state is opposed to Sewnarain being released on bail, just so that he can fund the legal team of his choice — advocate Yoga Moodley, SC, and Vershen Moodley.

He said many convicted prisoners find themselves in a similar situation to Sewnarain, and have to rely on legal aid to proceed with litigation.

He had various options available to him, he said.

Durban businessman and friend of Sewnarain, Shaun Sewnath, was among the witnesses called by the defence yesterday who testified that he was prepared to lease industrial land to Sewnarain to relaunch his business.

But the new investigating officer in the case, W/O Francois Esterhuizen, said according to his inquiries, it would be a minimum of two months before Sewnarain could expect to be awarded a licence to operate his business. Even then, it will depend on all health, safety and other requirements being met.

The state also has information that Sewnarain operated his former business illegally from 2005 until 2010.

The court was told that he had applied for a license from eThekwini Municipality in 2007, but the application was rejected in 2009.

Despite that, he carried on operating.

Sewnarain’s brother, Amrithlal, expressed disbelief when this was suggested to him by Truter.

“I cannot understand that. Wouldn’t the municipality have ordered him to close the business down if that was the case?” he asked.

Judgment in the bail application was reserved.

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