Has his luck run out?

2018-09-20 15:45
Convicted murderer Rajivee Soni at the high court on Wednesday.

Convicted murderer Rajivee Soni at the high court on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Has luck finally run out for businessman and convicted killer Rajivee Soni?

Soni spent the night behind bars on Wednesday after being found guilty of masterminding the cold-blooded murder of local doctor Bhavish Sewram, and a string of other offences.

Sewram was gunned down by a hitman outside his surgery in Chota Motala Road on the night of May 13, 2013.

It is, however, unlikely that the book will close on the doctor’s murder just yet, as Soni is expected to appeal the verdict.

The trial, which has spanned over five years, has had all the ingredients of a spicy live legal “soap opera” with its tragic roots in a love triangle.

State witnesses led by State advocate Johan du Toit testified that an alleged “flirtation” between Sewram and Soni’s wife, Kerusha, saw Soni embark on an elaborate scheme to run Sewram out of town and when that failed, he turned to murder.

Prior to his murder, Sewram became the victim of a malicious campaign to ruin his reputation by false sexual assault charges laid against him, threats and intimidation.

The court heard evidence that those carrying out a vendetta at Soni’s behest were a number of dirty cops.

One of them, Sugen Naidoo, described himself as a “rogue” policeman and former cocaine addict and admitted he had accepted bribes and was involved in a number of plots to frame Sewram by planting drugs in his surgery and in opening false cases of sexual assault against him.

He also testified that he and other policemen were involved in acts of vandalism in which graffiti was painted on the walls of the doctor’s surgery and at his home. The doctor was also shot at with paintball guns.

Naidoo claimed Soni had friends in high places who, he said, included high ranking police officials including Brigadier Francis Bantham and (now retired) Colonel Pipes Haffajee.

Neither of them testified in the case, but the former head of the KZN anti-corruption task team, Colonel Clarence Jones, was called to give evidence on behalf of the defence. He denied that he and a colleague had been responsible for trying to intimidate one key witness, Mlungisi Sithebe, like Sithebe said he did.

Jones said he didn’t know Soni and had no motive to act on his behalf.

Throughout, the stop-start trial was peppered by allegations of witness tampering.

At one stage, Sugen Naidoo alleged he and his family were afraid for their lives and the court ordered the police to give them protection.

Two policemen who were due to testify for the prosecution about the alleged paintball attack on the doctor, retracted their statements and did not give evidence after Soni’s lawyer claimed that they had been unduly influenced by the investigators in the case to make their original statements.

Another potential prosecution witness and policeman, Daryl Gounder, was arrested in a controversial “sting” operation after Soni accused him of trying to extort a bribe from him.

Gounder had been due to testify in relation to one of the alleged false sexual assault charges opened against the doctor, and claimed he was “set up” by Soni.

During the trial Sithebe died of natural causes but not before he had testified in the case — twice.

Sithebe said that just a couple of months before the doctor was murdered, he was approached by Soni to kill him. He refused and warned the doctor.

Soni was arrested and charged with Sewram’s murder in August 2013. He was soon released on R100 000 bail and has remained on bail throughout his trial.

Already convicted of the doctor’s murder by late 2015 — before Soni’s trial started — were a former city policeman, Brian Treasurer (who died in jail while serving a life sentence), the self-confessed gunman who pulled the trigger that killed the doctor, Sabelo Dlamini (currently serving 25 years in prison) and a “go-between”, Mfaniseni Nxumalo, who was also jailed for life.

The evidence of the shooter, Sabelo Dlamini, revealed he was paid R12 000, but it was never established how Treasurer and Nxumalo benefited. Dlamini did not know the identity of the paymaster.

However, he told the court that while Treasurer drove him away from the murder scene, Treasurer made a call telling someone the “job is done”.

Only Dlamini gave state evidence against Soni at his trial, with Treasurer and Nxumalo keeping mum throughout.

Soni — who was represented by two different legal teams during the trial, having fired his first attorney — has continued to strongly deny that he was behind the plot to murder the doctor.

He said he had no motive because they had made up their differences several months before Sewram was killed.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  soni murder trial

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