Rajivee Soni in the Pietermaritzburg high court. File picture: Shan Pillay.
DURBAN - Convicted killer Rajivee Soni has been living a “cushy life” in prison, allegedly having daily access to a smartphone and only eating food purchased from Woolworths.

The Department of Correctional Services has confirmed that since his incarceration in October, Soni has not spent a single night in a prison cell.

He is being kept in the hospital ward of Pietermaritzburg’s New Prison because of “multiple chronic conditions”.

In 2018, businessman Soni was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 2013 murder of Pietermaritzburg doctor Bhavish Sewram and for defeating the ends of justice by bribing police officers.

It emerged at the trial that Soni had suspected that his wife, Kerusha, was having an affair with Sewram.

On Friday in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, Soni was granted leave to appeal his conviction and sentencing. However, he was denied bail pending the leave to appeal.

Two independent sources, who did not want to be named as they feared for their lives, claimed Soni was using his influence and money to “live a comfortable life in prison”.

The sources alleged that Soni had access to a smartphone which he used to video call his children.

“(His children) have said that they had spoken to him and sometimes even Face-timed them,” said one source.

Approached for comment, the Department of Correctional Services spokesperson, Thulani Mdluli, said that during standard search routines, officers had never come across a smartphone in Soni’s possession.

“But we promise to diligently continue to execute our searches and if any illegal items are found on an offender or an official, they will be brought to book,” said Mdluli.

The sources claimed Soni refused to eat prison meals and was treated to daily food from Woolworths.

“He has regular contact meetings with his children in an office and not the prison visitation rooms.

“Recently, he showered his children with gifts during one of their visits.

“A photograph of his children, aged 12 and 5, walking out of the prison carrying two large gift bags, is proof of this,” said the source.

Soni’s ex-wife Kerusha confirmed the image was of her children but declined to comment further.

However, a close family member said Kerusha was “left angry and frustrated” when she was suddenly barred from escorting her children to the prison to visit their father.

“She has to wait outside the prison gates while a social worker takes them to see Rajivee. Kerusha feels helpless. After all, which mother would not be concerned about their going into a prison without a parent?

“The instruction for her to leave the children at the gate came from Soni. It was a sudden move,” the family member said. “His son does not even know that his father is in prison. He believes that he is visiting his father at his new workplace. That is why the visits take place in an office.”

Mdluli said the court order stated that only the children could have contact visits with Soni.

“Since his wife was not mentioned in the order, she is forced to follow the normal visiting procedure,” said Mdluli.

He added that if Kerusha wanted to accompany her children to see their father, she should challenge the court order.

Mdluli said Soni had health issues and had not left the hospital ward since his incarceration. He could not reveal the details of Soni’s condition.

“On his arrival at prison, Soni underwent our routine health-screening process, where it was diagnosed that he suffered from multiple chronic diseases.

“Unfortunately, his sickness cannot be publicly divulged as per the Patients’ Rights Charter,” Mdluli said.

He added that Soni had not been moved to a larger prison in Kokstad or Westville, as the Pietermaritzburg facility was “most appropriate” to meet his category, including the fact that it had 24-hour hospital care to see to his health needs.

Mdluli also confirmed that Soni had contact visits with his children in the social worker’s office, and not in a visitation room, as per the court order.

However, he denied Soni was being served meals from Woolworths.

“Our kitchen prepares his food according to his health dietary requirements,” Mdluli said.

With regard to the gifts Soni gave his children in February, Mdluli said all offenders had a prerogative to use their own funds for family matters, once approved by prison authorities.

He said Soni had facilitated through social services for a family member to purchase birthday gifts for his son.

This Mdluli said had been approved by the head of the prison.

Sewram’s widow, Yuvadia, said she also heard rumours about the “privileged” life Soni was leading in prison.

“Once again he is using his family resources to manipulate and entice state employees to benefit his own selfish schemes and needs. It makes me wonder if there is true justice, because he has unrestricted access to his children while my children will never see their father again. Where is the justice?” she asked.

She said it saddened her to see Soni make a mockery of the justice system.

“His incarceration needs to be investigated,” she said.

THE MERCURY