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Durban - A Westville Prison warder known as “26 Paul” because of his alleged gang affiliation has been accused in court of putting pressure on inmates for cellphones, money and drugs in return for their safety.
Paul Govindsamy, who is stationed at the main gate at Westville Prison, was arrested in January last year after prisoner Daniel Soobramoney allegedly escaped from King Edward VIII Hospital, where he had sought treatment.
The State alleges that Govindsamy, who is on trial in the Durban Regional Court on a charge of corruption and aiding and abetting a criminal to escape, took Soobramoney, who was sentenced in 2010 to 20 years in jail for fraud, to the Gateway shopping centre where he set him free.
About 15 hours later, police apprehended Soobramoney at the Mooi River Toll Plaza and brought him back to Durban before he was moved to Kokstad Prison.
Testifying last week, Soobramoney said he had had no intention of escaping, but that Govindsamy had abandoned him at Gateway
“There was no plan to escape. I never paid anyone any money to help me escape from hospital.”
Soobramoney claimed Govindsamy asked him for a loan of R10 000 and put pressure on him, in return for his safety in prison.
He said Govindsamy belonged to a prison gang called the “26s” that put pressure on prisoners for money and drugs. Govindsamy would often smuggle cellphones, toiletries, sweets and chocolates into the prison for him, he said.
“I didn’t have a problem with him. Whenever he wanted anything, I had to give it to him for my security,” he said. “He could make things bad for you.”
The court heard that during his shift every evening, Govindsamy would allow Soobramoney the use of a cellphone, buy him food and also withdraw money sent to Soobramoney by his friends.
He said Govindsamy twice removed his leg irons and took him outside to buy food.
He also said that Govindsamy arranged for his friend, Melanie Naidoo, to visit him.
Naidoo had allegedly entrusted Soobramoney with several of her bank cards, as well as Woolworths and Foschini cards, which he said Govindsamy had kept with him.
Soobramoney claimed Govindsamy told him he owed people money and asked to borrow R10 000.
He said in his mind, he had written off the money because Govindsamy had taken money from him many times without paying it back.
Soobramoney said he was admitted to King Edward around January 23 for uncontrollable blood pressure.
“He (Govindsamy) told me he could arrange to get me out of hospital to get the money. The plan was for Melanie to fetch us to get the money,” Soobramoney said.
Govindsamy told Naidoo to park at the back entrance of the hospital and told Soobramoney not to worry about security, the court heard.
“Govindsamy said an ex-prison warder, called Juggie, was on the medical board, and he had a card with an identity picture that looked like me. He said I could use that to pass the guards.”
Soobramoney said Govindsamy had asked him to “make a plan” with cheques for “Juggie”, who was facing eviction and had “money problems”.
“He said he would tell everyone I helped the 26 gangsters.”
Soobramoney said he asked one of his girlfriends to arrange an account he could use. Govindsamy then brought him a cheque, which he made out for R75 000.
Soobramoney said he made pin holes on the account number and branch code on the bottom of the cheque, to “confuse the computer”, resulting in the cheque being cleared.
The next day Govindsamy said he deposited the R75 000.
When magistrate Trevor Levitt asked why Govindsamy would ask him to do this, Soobramoney said: “I’m not saying it with pride, but I’m quite good at fraud. I’ve been doing it since 1986.”
The following day, a Friday, Govindsamy went downstairs to meet Melanie when she arrived, the court heard. He returned with a pair of shorts for Soobramoney to change into.
Soobramoney said he heard Govindsamy tell a nurse that he was taking him to another ward to watch football.
He said Govindsamy then took him downstairs and removed his leg irons, placed them in a packet and tucked it under his arm. Govindsamy distracted a guard and he slipped through and got into Naidoo’s car.
Their first stop was at a woman’s house in Overport, where he fetched R5 000, of which he gave Govindsamy half.
Next, the trio went to Soobramoney’s friend’s house, where he had been hiding out before he had been arrested, to fetch more money.
Soobramoney said they then met Juggie at Gateway and Govindsamy disappeared during a “walkabout” with Juggie.
He said he waited outside Gateway for two hours and Govindsamy never returned to take him back to the hospital.
He said he did not know what to do and called his lawyer who told him to wait until Monday.
Soobramoney said he had given Govindsamy a total of R10 000 from the time he was admitted to hospital until he was left at Gateway.
“If I wanted to escape, I would have, I had plenty of chances to run,” he said. “It was my intention to return to the hospital. Govindsamy never came back.”
During cross-examination it was put to Soobramoney that he had threatened Govindsamy’s family.
“That’s a dirty lie. It’s impossible for me to threaten your client because he’s the gangster,” Soobramoney retorted.
Govindsamy had not been subjected to any internal disciplinary inquiry and remained on duty, the court heard.
The trial resumes in May.