Sex, lies and corrupt cops

2015-03-28 00:00

MURDER, sex, drugs, assault and corruption.

These are the spicy ingredients of a drama playing out in the high court.

Pietermaritzburg businessman Rajivee Soni is charged with murdering local doctor Bhavish Sewram, whom he admitted to have suspected of having an affair with his wife Kerusha.

The trial, adjourned until September 28, has already presented all the elements of a television “whodunnit”, with much dirty laundry being aired, high-ranking police officials being fingered, fears for the lives of witnesses, suggestions of witness-tampering, and that Soni and his lawyer had also received intimidatory calls.

This week, Soni’s defence suggested Sewram wasn’t only suspected of an affair with Kerusha Soni, and that Sewram’s wife Yuvadia and mother-in-law Pritha Singh had accused him “in a number of instances” of extra-marital affairs.

Soni also claims the women assaulted Sewram and Kerusha over their alleged affair.

When state advocate Johan du Toit objected to the suggestions, Soni’s lawyer, Naren Sangham, told Judge Jacqueline Henriques and assessor Gerhard Barnard that this is relevant because the defence plans to show that “people other than Soni harboured motives” to kill the doctor.

Soni denies any involvement in Sewram’s murder and maintains he and Kerusha reconciled, and that he’d already “made peace” with the doctor when the latter was shot dead on May 13, 2013.

On the other hand, a key prosecution witness, ex-policeman Sugen Naidoo, has painted Soni as a man obsessed to the point of “stupidity” in his desire to harm Sewram.

His initial aim to humiliate Sewram allegedly grew, due to frustration, to a point where he wanted to “hurt” the doctor and ultimately to murder him, said Naidoo.

Naidoo alleged Soni once told him he had offered another ex-policeman, Brian Treasurer, R80 000 — and later raised the sum to R150 000 — to shoot Sewram.

He also claimed Soni told him around January 2013 that he was prepared to offer R250 000 to kill Sewram, as he “will not be able to take his wife back if this man is still alive”.

The alleged smear campaign — which Soni also denies happened — allegedly took the form of many failed plots to plant drugs and an illegal gun in Sewram’s surgery, to assault and stab the doctor, falsely accuse him of sexually assaulting two different women, paint graffiti labelling him a “sex pest” at his home and surgery, and shoot him with a paintball gun.

The defence has in turn sought to prove that Naidoo’s evidence can’t be believed because he’s a former cocaine addict and a “very, very corrupt” policeman.

The defence version — which Naidoo dismissed as “lies” — is that Naidoo demanded money from Soni in respect of legitimate cases opened at the police station, and threatened to falsely “implicate” him and have him arrested if he didn’t pay up.

These cases were the two sexual assault cases against Sewram, and an assault charge laid by Soni against the doctor, who allegedly slapped the businessman through the open window of his car.

Naidoo told the court he helped Soni to orchestrate the false charges in the sexual assault cases, as well as the graffiti and paintball attacks. He did this because he wanted money and realised Soni was “stupid enough to pay almost anything” to embarrass Sewram.

Naidoo admitted he had deceived Soni into paying him money when he pretended he would carry out a plan without any intention of doing so.

He also admitted he had avoided telling other people he enlisted to help carry out the illegal deeds how much Soni was going to pay, because he always kept the lion’s share for himself.

He agreed under cross-examination that Soni helped him out financially, with food, and once lent him his vehicle.

Once Soni gave him R5 000 to buy a PlayStation 3 for his son’s birthday (which Soni says was a loan), and on another occasion “contributed” towards a R20 000 birthday party Naidoo threw for his twin daughters.

Naidoo agreed Soni might have contributed towards braais held at Mountain Rise police station.

The defence read out statements of several potential witnesses, refuting Naidoo’s testimony, and the court heard that two policemen — who Naidoo fingered for the graffiti and paintball attacks on Sewram — had retracted their initial confessions to police last year, saying they made them under duress.

Naidoo remained self-assured on the stand, despite being clearly irritated at times by his detailed cross-examination over three weeks.

“What I am saying is the truth. That is why I am here,” he said repeatedly.

Naidoo described himself as a “rogue policeman working with a bunch of rogues” at Mountain Rise, where he said they worked in an “atmosphere” of corruption.

He said corrupt practices at the station were rife, such as demanding bribes from victims of crime to ensure dockets were opened and their cases went to court, and from crime suspects and their lawyers to ensure they got bail.

Naidoo said he was among a group of policemen who used cocaine at the station while on duty, and said his addiction grew when a policeman began selling drugs at the station.

Soni’s trial got off to a rocky start after the defence insisted that state advocate Sandesh Sankar had to recuse himself on the grounds that he was biased and would stop Soni getting a fair trial. Sankar denied the allegations, but agreed to hand over the reins to advocate Johan du Toit. The defence later withdrew the recusal application.

Sugen Naidoo described his one brother-in-law as a “drug dealer” from whom he bought cocaine, and another as a “worse drug addict than me”.

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