Rogue cop tells court of his terror

2015-03-17 00:00

THE Sewram murder trial took several twists yesterday when rogue policeman Sugen Naidoo said he is “terrified” for his life and the safety of his family, murder accused Rajivee Soni and his lawyer said they have received “anonymous” threatening phone calls, and the prosecution said that it is ­investigating allegations of witness tampering.

These twists were revealed yesterday in the trial where Soni is charged with the murder of ­Pietermaritzburg doctor Bhavish Sewram.

Sewram, who was allegedly suspected of having an affair with Soni’s wife, was shot dead as he left his surgery on the night of May 13, 2013.

Judge Jacqueline Henriques yesterday instructed state advocate Johan du Toit and police to ensure Naidoo and his family are protected, after he ­appealed to her, saying he was “terrified” for his life and for his family.

Naidoo said he’d been left “totally exposed” by his testimony, in which he’s implicated high-profile police officers at Mountain Rise in crime.

He said he had “answered truthfully” to the ­various issues raised by the defence, including ­issues that were not related to the murder case. These involved other cases such as the RAF fraud trial of Naleni Atwaru (a local attorney with whom he alleges he had a long-standing affair) and Dr Terrence Govender.

“My wife is an officer at Mountain Rise and her direct boss is Brigadier [Francis] Bantham,” he said, referring to the station commissioner at Mountain Rise who is among those he implicated in his evidence as being a friend of Soni.

Other high-ranking Mountain Rise officers named in his testimony include Captain Pipes ­Haffajee and a Colonel Wiles.

Naidoo told the judge he has “nobody to speak to” about his concerns because he was warned not to talk to the prosecutor or police while under cross-examination.

“The people I can speak to I don’t trust … My wife is afraid to go back to work. My mom is sick in hospital. My family was policing me this weekend … I was basically confined to my home. This is putting immense pressure on me in the witness box. I’m terrified for my life and for my family,” he said.

Soni’s attorney, Naren Sangham, questioned whether Naidoo was in any real danger. He said Naidoo had not given specific examples of threats to himself or his family, and submitted he was “purely creating sensation” and wanted sympathy.

“The only cause of his fear which he’s put before this court is that he testified about Brigadier ­Bantham and that she is the station commissioner at Mountain Rise.”

Sangham also alleged Naidoo was not truthful about being confined to his house at the weekend, saying that Soni and his sister had seen him out and about twice over the weekend.

Sangham then revealed that he and Soni had also received anonymous phone calls but “did not want to make an issue” of them.

“It goes with the territory,” he said. “In my view, people who make anonymous calls are faceless cowards,” said Sangham, without revealing the content of the calls.

He added later — after the prosecution revealed that it is investigating possible witness-tampering — that Soni denies that he “directly, indirectly or in any way whatsoever” had contacted, influenced or threatened state witnesses.

“Any aspersions cast in that regard are ­unfounded … Wherever these fears come from, we are the ones that should be afraid,” said Sangham, ­referring to the anonymous calls.

Du Toit told the court that he held talks with police regarding the safety of the state’s witnesses on Friday.

“I want to put it as delicately as possible … We are at present investigating possible interference with all our witnesses. I personally overheard a conversation where a witness said that he was being influenced. These things are real,” said Du Toit.

Judge Henriques adjourned the case until today, pending arrangements for the protection of ­Naidoo and his family, as well as to give Naidoo a chance to consult his attorney for legal advice about his right not to answer questions that might ­incriminate him in offences that fall outside the ambit of the present trial.

Rajivee Soni has pleaded not guilty to arranging and paying “hitmen” to murder Dr Bhavish Sewram on May 13, 2013, and to five other ­charges. These relate to an alleged smear ­campaign designed to “drive” Sewram out of Pietermaritzburg in revenge for his alleged ­affair with Soni’s wife, by arranging for him to twice be falsely charged with sexual assault, opening a false assault charge against him, and arranging for people to shoot Sewram with paintball guns.

Soni is also charged with conspiring with Mlungisi Sithebe to shoot the doctor three months prior to the doctor’s eventual murder.

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