Durban - Insurance policies worth R33 million were taken out on the life of a doctor who was murdered, allegedly on the instruction of his jealous former best friend, the Pietermaritzburg High Court heard on Monday.
It is unclear who the beneficiaries of these policies are, but it is also alleged that a trust had been created in the doctor’s name, with his wife and his father-in-law named as trustees.
On Monday, the four men accused of killing Dr Bhavish Sewram appeared briefly in court.
The matter was adjourned for two weeks to allow the counsel for one of them to investigate revelations that Sewram had been insured for R33m about 18 months before he was shot.
Allegations that a trust had been created in Sewram’s name, with his wife, Yuvadia, and his father-in-law named as trustees, will also be probed. An application was also made for the judge to recuse himself from the trial.
Sewram, 33, who was married with two young daughters, was shot dead by a hooded gunman as he was about to drive away from his surgery in Chota Motala Road, Pietermaritzburg, on May 13 last year.
His former best friend, local businessman, Rajive Soni, 37, ex-policeman, Brian Treasurer, 53, the alleged trigger man, Sabelo Dlamini, and alleged “middleman”, Mfaniseni Nxumalo, have been charged with his murder.
Addressing Judge Isaac Madondo before a packed courtroom, Soni’s advocate, Naren Sangham, said that it would be in the interests of justice that the alleged policies and trust be investigated to establish whether they did exist.
“Without suggesting any impropriety on anyone’s part, if these allegations are found to be true, then this in itself creates a further motive for Sewram’s death,” Sangham said. He said Soni would be hiring a private forensic investigator to ascertain the validity of those allegations.
“We have the name of the broker who allegedly brokered these policies, as well as the bank where the trust is allegedly held,” Sangham said.
He also attacked State advocate, Sandesh Sanker, for not investigating these claims.
Sanker retaliated, calling Sangham’s application for a postponement nothing more than a delaying tactic.
Sanker said he was aware of the “rumours” of the policies and trust, and had relayed this information to the investigating officer, who checked them out and found no evidence of the policies.
“In his view, the allegations had no substance. I even checked with the family and alleged trustees who denied that such policies and trust existed,” Sanker said.
“It is both macabre and bizarre to ask the State to investigate speculation on behalf of the defence. This is nothing more than a figment of someone’s imagination.”
Sangham also made an application for Madondo to recuse himself from the trial because he had presided over a civil matter between Soni and his wife in 2012.
At that time, Soni’s estranged wife, Kerusha, had applied for a protection order against him.
Sangham said that even though the judge had ruled in Soni’s favour in that matter, he should not preside over the trial.
“While I have no doubt as to your impartiality, if there is the slightest perception that a bias exists, in favour of Soni or against him, then it would be in the interests of justice if you did not preside over this trial,” Sangham submitted.
While Madondo did not rule on Sangham’s recusal application, he did grant the postponement.
“To avoid all complications and to prevent the situation arising where counsel for Soni is unable to properly conduct his defence, the matter will be postponed. Soni, and all the accused, must get a fair trial,” Madondo said.
The case was adjourned to March 17. Soni is on bail of R100 000, while Treasurer is on bail of R50 000.
Nxumalo and Dlamini are in custody.
Apart from murder, Soni faces five additional charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and conspiracy to commit murder.
In the indictments, the State alleges that when Soni discovered his wife was having an affair with Bhavish Sewram in 2012, he embarked on a campaign to drive him out of town. When that failed, he decided to have Sewram killed.
Soni’s “quest for vengeance” allegedly involved concocting charges of sexual assault against Sewram on two occasions.
It is alleged that the businessman approached two of Sewram’s young female patients to lay charges of sexual assault against the doctor.
It is alleged that after these schemes failed, he allegedly hired two people to shoot Sewram with a high-powered paintball gun using solid projectiles instead of ordinary paintballs.
On October 24, 2012, Sewram was shot several times with the paintball gun as he left his surgery, causing multiple abrasions and bruises on his right forearm and scalp.
When the charges of sexual assault were withdrawn in court, and Soni realised all his plans had been thwarted, he turned to murder, the State alleges.
One of the charges against Soni alleges that in early February last year, he had offered one, Mlungisi Sithebe, R100 000 to kill Sewram. Sithebe allegedly pretended to agree to the plan, but instead alerted Sewram to Soni’s plot. The State alleges that Soni later approached Brian Treasurer, with the same offer.
Treasurer allegedly accepted and arranged for Nxumalo and Dlamini to carry out Sewram’s murder in return for money.