Soni trial delay bid thwarted

2015-03-03 00:00

THE state thwarted a probable delay to the start of businessman Rajivee Soni’s murder trial yesterday when the advocate heading the prosecution agreed to step down.

This was amid allegations by the defence, which he denies, that he is biased against Soni and that his involvement in the case would deny the businessman a fair trial.

Soni is charged with conspiring to murder Pietermaritzburg doctor ­Bhavish Sewram to exact vengeance on him because he allegedly suspected the doctor of having an affair with his wife Kerusha.

Soni is also charged with five counts of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

These incidents allegedly involved concocting charges of sexual assault against the doctor on two occasions, ­laying a false assault charge against him and hiring two people to shoot at the doctor with a high-powered paintball gun using “solid projectiles” instead of ordinary paintballs in order to seriously injure him.

The advocate who has led the ­prosecution since Soni’s arrest during 2013, Sandesh Sankar, yesterday faced an application by Soni and his attorney, Naren Sangham, to force him to ­permanently recuse himself from ­involvement in the trial.

However, Sankar said although he fully intends to oppose the application — which he claims is “riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods” — he believes the “case is bigger than one person”.

He therefore agreed to hand over the reins to fellow state advocate Johan du Toit, pending the outcome of the recusal application which is expected to be heard in the near future by another court.

Judge Jacqueline Henriques, who is presiding over the criminal trial, stressed yesterday that she had not read the recusal application papers, as she wanted the matter to be heard by another judge.

She thereafter ordered the trial, which is set down for hearing over the next two weeks, to proceed.

Sangham told the court that he is ready to start the trial, but complained that Sankar failed to inform him which state witnesses were due to testify this week. He also told the court he is still waiting for further particulars from the state, which the defence requested after Soni’s trial was separated from that of his three former co-accused late last year.

After talks between Sangham and Du Toit, it was agreed that the trial would start today.

Du Toit also told the judge that the state undertook to provide the further ­particulars requested by the defence this morning.

The allegations the state will set out to prove against Soni are that when Soni suspected his wife of having an affair with Sewram during 2012, he initially ­embarked on a revenge campaign aimed at driving him out of town.

When that failed, he allegedly decided to have the doctor killed and paid others to carry out the assassination.

The state alleges that in 2012, when Soni became suspicious that the doctor was having an affair with his wife, he’d paid a woman to frame Sewram by laying a false charge of sexual assault against him.

When that case was withdrawn, Soni allegedly personally laid a charge with police to the effect that Sewram had “slapped” him; he also subsequently ­allegedly persuaded another patient of Sewram’s to also lay a false charge of ­sexual assault against the doctor.

Although Sewram was arrested and appeared in court, that charge was also later withdrawn against him by the state.

It is alleged that Soni was also behind an incident in which Sewram was shot ­several times with a paintball gun outside his surgery on October 24, 2012. He ­suffered abrasions and bruising on his right forearm and scalp.

The state alleges that three men — former policeman Brian Treasurer, Mfaniseni Nxumalo and hired gunman Sabelo Dlamini — acted on Soni’s orders to ambush the doctor and murder him.

Sewram was shot dead execution style as he left his surgery on the night of May 13, 2013.

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