Polokwane - The trial against Limpopo businessman Rameez Patel, who is accused of killing his wife Fatima in 2015, was marred by three key State witnesses who are all allegedly out of the country.
The Limpopo High Court in Polokwane on Tuesday heard that the brother of murder accused Patel fled the country fearing that his life was in danger.
State prosecutor Mashudu Mudau told the court that the State was left with no option after his brother Razeen registered concern over his safety shortly after his mother was killed in September.
According to Mudau, Razeen refused to be taken into the Department of Justice and Correctional Service’s witness protection program.
He was the third witness who refused to be kept in the programme after two of Patel’s former employees, Sibongile Ngwenya and Danny Gundiza, also opted to skip the programme, citing low stipend from government.
Mudau told the court that Razeem emerged as a potential witness in the murder case of Patel’s wife over the weekend.
He said evidence from Razeem was gathered when Patel was arrested on Friday for his mother’s murder.
Mahejeen Banu Patel, 51, was shot and killed when an armed Patel allegedly opened fire on her and their domestic worker. Patel was arrested ten days later and appeared in the Polokwane Magistrate’s Court on Monday for her murder.
Mudau told the court on Tuesday that Patel’s brother Razeem had submitted a statement to police and had told them that his life was in danger. However, he did not provide any further details about the alleged threats against him.
Patel is also standing trial for the murder of Fatima who was shot and killed at the couple’s apartment, also in Nirvana, in 2015.
Earlier, the hearsay evidence of two State witnesses who disappeared from the witness protection programme came under the spotlight.
Mudau submitted an application asking the court to admit hearsay evidence of two of its key witnesses so that it could be interrogated by the court.
The witnesses, Sibongile Ngwenya and Danny Gundiza, were employed by Patel and worked at his home.
Mudau had told the court that allowing the pair’s statements to be admitted would not amount to violating Patel’s rights.
He argued that it was in the interest of justice that their evidence be admitted to guide the court in determining the case against Patel because it corroborated with the evidence of other witnesses.
“Already, we know that Sibongile and Danny were at the house when the accused ordered them to leave through the accused brother Razeem,” Mudau said.
“The evidence is not a standalone, if it is standalone evidence [then] that evidence cannot be admitted, but this evidence will help the court when examining the evidence in totality,” Mudau argued.
The court heard that Ngwenya and Gundiza, both Zimbabwean nationals, apparently lodged a complaint against Department of Justice and Correctional Service’s witness protection programme for "low compensation".
The witness protection programme helps witnesses with safety and security, shelter and food stipend.
The court also heard that following their complaint, the two left the country and returned home to Zimbabwe. Police have been struggling to track them down ever since.
It emerged that Ngwenya had discovered a firearm in Patel’s bedroom, but no firearm had been recovered from the accused since his arrest in 2015. He has vehemently denied having possession of any firearm.
According to Mudau, there was consistent and clear corroboration of evidence given by Ngwenya and Gundiza.
It is alleged that Patel killed his wife, hid his bloodied clothes and claimed the attack was committed during a house robbery and that he was not present at the time of her murder.
However, during the bail application police revealed that Patel was seen in the house at the time of the murder.
Patel's lawyer Tumi Mokoena opposed the application, saying the evidence should not be admitted as he would not be able to cross examine the witnesses.
At the end of what was a lengthy battle between both parties, Judge Joseph Raulinga expressed disappointment and concern over the fact that authorities failed to put stringent conditions when releasing Ngwenya and Gundiza from the programme, as well as in ensuring that Patel's brother Razeem stayed within the borders of the province and the country.
The case was adjourned to Wednesday for Raulinga to rule on whether he will grant the State’s application to have its hearsay evidence admitted.