Soni trial casts doubt on phones

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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.
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Cellphone records of love triangle murder accused Rajivee Soni came under the spotlight when his trial for the 2013 murder of Dr Bhavish Sewram resumed in the high court on Monday after a break of nearly 10 months.

Soni’s new defence team on Monday also revealed that they will bring an application on Tuesday [today] to recall a number of state witnesses who had already finished testifying in the case.

While they did not give the names of the witnesses they want to recall, the court was told it “will not be more than four witnesses”.

However, the state seems certain to object to the move.

Soni has replaced his former attorney, Naren Sangham, with two advocates, Christo van Schalkwyk, SC, and Jimmy Howse.

At the start of yesterday’s hearing Van Schalkwyk told Judge Jacqueline Henriques that Soni had asked him to put on record that Soni had terminated Sangham’s services in January, and that it was not Sangham who had suggested he should withdraw.

Van Schalkwyk said he was asked to clarify the position because it was not clear from the record.

Just why Soni decided to replace Sangham is still not known.

Sangham had represented the businessman since before his arrest as a suspect in the doctor’s murder in 2013, but in January this year Soni did a sudden about-turn and fired him.

Van Schalkwyk told the judge that he and Howse, who is instructed by attorney AK Ayoob, are working “in partnership” and will both play an active role in Soni’s defence.

The court yesterday heard evidence from MTN manager Dharmesh Kanti about two calls that were made between a cellphone number Rica registered in the name of Brian Treasurer (a former policeman who is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the doctor’s murder) and Soni’s cellphone number on the day of the doctor’s murder on May 13, 2013.

The cellphone records showed one call, which went to voicemail and lasted 12 seconds, was made from Treasurer’s phone to Soni’s at 7.10.49 pm.

The call was followed by a second call at 7.11.10 pm which Kanti described as an “ SMS sent from the voicemail platform”.

The calls were reportedly made in the vicinity of the Copesville cellphone tower. Under cross examination Kanti said there was no way of extracting the contents of any SMS messages or voicemail messages.

Cross-examining him, Van Schalkwyk challenged the reliability of MTN’s systems and, to demonstrate this, confronted Kanti with an affidavit in which allegedly incorrect GPS co-ordinates were given for two MTN towers based on data extracted from the system. Kanti said he was not able to comment.

Soni is charged with masterminding Sewram’s murder out of jealousy as he allegedly suspected the doctor of having an affair with his wife.

Soni also faces a number of other charges emanating from an alleged “vendetta” by him against the doctor, which aimed at forcing Sewram to leave town before Soni decided to have him killed.

They include allegations that Soni arranged for two women to lay false sexual assault complaints against the doctor.

At court yesterday ready to testify in the case was the self-confessed hitman, Sabelo Dlamini, who is due to be cross-examined by the defence.

Dlamini, who pleaded guilty soon af-ter his arrest, is serving a 25-year prison sentence for the role he played.

He has admitted in evidence at Soni’s trial that he shot the doctor in exchange for payment, but said he did not know who funded the hit.

The court was told, however, that Dlamini’s further evidence will have to be put on hold because he is in the middle of exams.

Du Toit said he only found out late in the day that Dlamini was writing exams for the rest of this week.

Asked if the defence objected to Dlamini’s evidence being postponed until Monday, defence advocate Christo van Schalkwyk, SC, quipped; “ I don’t believe we can object … I understand he is writing his LLB and how can one not give a fellow LLB student a chance?”

The joke was an apparent reference to the fact that Dlamini’s middle name is “Advocate”.

The case is proceeding.

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