Soni’s case ‘strange’

2019-09-19 15:00
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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How did it come about that jailed businessman Rajivee Soni’s bail appeal came before the Pietermaritzburg high court so soon?

This was the question asked by Judge Rishi Seegobin and Judge Thoba Poyo-Dlwati, who along with Acting Judge Xolile Ntshulana heard the appeal on Wednesday.

Soni, who stands convicted of the murder of his former best friend, Dr Bhavish Sewram, began serving his effective 30-year sentence last year. He applied for bail, pending the hearing of his appeal against conviction and sentence, a few times in front of the trial court Judge Jacqueline Henriques and failed.

This is his first shot at bail before a full bench of three judges.

Advocate Mike Hellens, SC, for Soni, replied to the question from the bench, saying that Soni’s attorneys had written a letter on July 5 to Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo requesting that the appeal be heard on an urgent basis.

He added that bail appeals are always urgent.

Judge Seegobin said it is a “little unusual” for people to be afforded this kind of preferential treatment when there are more important matters to be dealt with.

Judge Poyo-Dlwati also said she found it strange.

Earlier, Hellens argued that Soni should be granted bail because when Judge Henriques refused him bail, she said that the R200 000 offered was not enough to stop absconding and this implied that a higher amount would suffice.

Hellens said a higher amount of bail ought to have been investigated by the judge. “The appeal should be upheld on this ground alone,” he emphasised.

State advocate Sandesh Sankar responded that there was no need for bail amounts to be discussed because the judge had already denied him bail.

Hellens also argued that Soni is not a flight risk as he has strong family ties in the city, including two children and his 73-year-old mother.

However, Sankar said that if he was given bail, Soni could “just make himself unavailable” or use other tactics that make life difficult for the appeal to be prosecuted.

Hellens touched on Soni’s medical condition, saying he has been treated for hypertension and non-occlusive coronary disease for the past 10 years.

He also said the mere fact that Soni has been granted leave to appeal means that he has successfully demonstrated that he has reasonable prospects of success.

Hellens added that the allegation that Soni contracted others to murder Sewram was dealt a blow by the death of self-confessed murderer Sabelo Dlamini. He testified that he did not know Soni and he only killed Sewram because his friend had not been paid by Sewram for grass cutting work.

The only evidence linking Soni to the murder is a call he made to Brian Treasurer that lasted 12 seconds. Treasurer was convicted on Sewram’s murder in a separate trial.

He has also subsequently died.

What is Soni in jail for?

The Pietermaritzburg high court found that Rajivee Soni had Dr Bhavish Sewram killed in May 2013 outside his surgery.

He believed that the doctor was having an affair with his wife.

Judge Jacqueline Henriques found that Soni got Brian Treasurer to assist with the murder. He in turn obtained the services of Sabelo Dlamini and Mfaniseni Nxumalo. These three men were convicted and sentenced. Dlamini and Treasurer both died in prison.

Soni was also found guilty on five other charges — three of defeating the ends of justice, conspiracy to commit murder, and assault. The defeating the ends of justice charges formed part of a scheme by Soni and the people he had hired to “humiliate and degrade” the doctor. This took place over 18 months. 

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  soni murder trial
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