Soni ‘aide’ off bribery hook

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Rajivee Soni
Rajivee Soni

Pietermaritzburg - A former Pietermaritzburg policeman and roleplayer in the infamous Rajivee Soni murder trial is off the hook on a bribery charge linked to the case.

The Witness has confirmed that the charge against Daryl Gounder (48) was provisionally withdrawn in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Monday.

Gounder — who was expected to be a state witness at Soni’s trial — was controversially arrested in a “sting operation” on May 5 last year and charged with accepting a R10 000 bribe from Soni, allegedly in return for “information” intended to help the businessman in his case.

Soni stands accused of orchestrating the murder of Pietermaritzburg doctor Bhavish Sewram, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife.

While some sources suggested Gounder’s arrest was a bid to discredit him as a potential witness, Soni and his former attorney, Naren Sangham, emphatically denied this and defended the move to set up a sting.

Sangham told The Witness at the time that he had called in the police after Gounder allegedly approached Soni and attempted to extort R70 000 from him in return for “key information” relating to his murder trial.

The “sting” was set up by members of the presidential anti-corruption task team.

On May 5, Gounder, disguised in a jacket, hat and sunglasses, allegedly met Soni in the food court at the Pavilion shopping centre and accepted payment of R10 000 in marked notes.

In return, he was alleged to have handed a document to Soni, the contents of which are unknown.

At his subsequent bail hearing, Gounder claimed he was “set up” and that he had an innocent explanation for possessing the money. However, he did not elaborate.

Gounder alleged at the time that Soni had approached him first, not the other way around.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Kara yesterday confirmed that the charge against Gounder was “provisionally withdrawn” on Monday. However, no reason for the withdrawal was given.

According to an informed source, however, Soni has refused to testify in the case against Gounder while his trial for Sewram’s murder is still continuing in the high court. Since he is the main witness in the case against Gounder, the matter could not proceed. Soni’s murder trial is due to resume in November.

Among the allegations facing Soni are that he masterminded a vengeful campaign against Sewram, which culminated in the doctor’s murder at the hands of hired hitmen. Gounder was expected to testify about an alleged plan to “plant” drugs in Sewram’s surgery, and his alleged involvement in a plan hatched to lay a false sexual assault charge against the doctor. The former policeman allegedly helped to arrange for a Pietermaritzburg woman, Mariamma Kisten, to concoct a false sexual assault charge against Sewram in February 2012.

However, sources close to the case said that Gounder was unlikely to be considered a state witness following his arrest on the bribery allegation as his credibility would be tarnished.

After Gounder’s arrest, the prosecution tasked police to establish if there were grounds to accuse Soni of interfering with a state witness in breach of his bail conditions. The allegation was, however, strongly denied by Sangham, who said Soni had done nothing wrong. The lawyer said Soni had no contact with Gounder after reporting the alleged extortion bid to him, except in the presence of the anti-corruption task team members who arranged the sting. No subsequent action was taken against Soni in connection with the matter.

• At the end of last year, Soni changed his legal team. The move was not linked in any way to the Gounder matter. Advocates Christo van Schalkwyk SC and Jimmy Howse will represent Soni when his trial resumes.

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