Key witness in Soni trial dies after ‘grave illness’

Businessman Rajivee Soni is on trial for the murder of Dr Bhavish Sewram.
Businessman Rajivee Soni is on trial for the murder of Dr Bhavish Sewram.

The murder trial of Pietermaritzburg businessman Rajivee Soni heard yesterday that a key witness whom his new lawyers had wanted to question further, has died.

State advocate Johan du Toit told Judge Jacqueline Henriques and assessor Gerhard Barnard that his investigating officer was told Professor Sithebe had died in hospital after falling gravely ill.

However, he said at the request of the defence, the state would obtain a certificate or “some document” from the medical staff to confirm his death.

Sithebe is one of four state witnesses that Soni’s new advocates, Christo van Schalkwyk, SC, and Jimmy Howse were given permission to recall for further cross examination.

Sithebe had already given detailed evidence in the case on two separate occasions — once during a trial within a trial to decide if the court would admit into evidence a video recording he made on his cellphone.

He also testified in the “main trial” about an alleged “conspiracy” by Soni to hire Sithebe to kill Dr Bhavish Sewram during February 2013.

Sithebe claimed that instead of carrying out Soni’s instruction to kill the doctor at the time, he had warned Sewram about the murder plot against him.

He told the court that he had taken a video of Soni in his car because he wanted “proof” that Soni had hired him to kill the doctor.

The video was later retrieved by police after the doctor’s actual murder in May 2013.

The video was ruled to be admissible in the case by the judge, who also ordered recently that all the evidence led during the trial within a trial about the recording will be incorporated as evidence in the main trial.

The state alleges that Soni was the mastermind behind Sewram’s murder after a “vendetta” to “make his life a living hell” and drive him out of town failed.

Soni’s alleged motive was his suspicion that the doctor was having an affair with his wife, Kerusha.

Yesterday advocate Howse questioned former “corrupt” Mountain Rise policeman Sugen Naidoo further about his role in some of the events, including an alleged plot to falsely charge Sewram with sexual assault.

Naidoo testified under cross examination that he was paid R40 000 by Soni after fellow policeman Daryl Gounder persuaded a local woman, Mariamma Kisten, to lay the false charge against the doctor.

Howse suggested that this was not what he had said in his original police statement nor evidence in the trial when he allegedly only mentioned receiving R20 000 from Soni.

The advocate also suggested to Naidoo that he and Gounder had their “own agenda” in connection with the incident, which had nothing to do with Soni, who “strongly denies” the allegations.

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