Port Elizabeth - While in prison, murder-accused Christopher Panayiotou pulled out the stops to assist a German man, accused of murdering Thornhill farmer Claus Schroeder, the Port Elizabeth High Court heard on Tuesday.
Mark Nielson, a Section 204 witness, testified during the trial against German couple Jens Leunberg and Kristina Adler who are accused of defrauding Schroeder out of millions of rands through the sale of his Thornhill farm in 2009. The couple allegedly forged a bank guarantee for the initial purchase price of R8.5 million.
Nielson, a so-called handwriting fundi, told the court Leunberg approached him while in prison saying that he had problems in an ongoing case against him. He said that Leunberg wanted him to forge a number of signatures including Schroeder's on a particular document.
The court heard that Nielson told Leunberg and Panayiotou that he would need more copies of the document in order to practice forging the signatures.
Advocate Marius Stander, who is prosecuting both criminal cases, asked Nielson how it was possible for Leunberg and Panayiotou to produce copies while they were both incarcerated.
"At first they were thinking to get Christopher's mom [Fanoula] to come and pick up the document, come visit and take it to make copies. The other option was that Chris and Jens were working in the registrar office regularly," said Nielson.
Since 1982, Nielson has accumulated 11 previous convictions for theft amongst others things. He is currently an awaiting trial prisoner and his pending case relating to theft of motor vehicle is nearing completion.
He told the court on Tuesday, that he eventually received around 30 copies of the document from Panayiotou enabling him to practice forging the signatures for Leunberg.
Nielson said that he was often in the company of Panayiotou and Leunberg.
"I was amongst Jens and Chris and it was always discussed what an idiot Mr Stander is," Nielson told the court.
Stander questioned Nielson if he ever spoke to Leunberg about the fact that Schroeder's body was never discovered.
Nielson replied: "He [Leunberg] said various allegations were made...that he might have cut up the body and fed it to the wolf dog he had, he possibly buried the body."
Stander asked: "What was his explanation for this?"
Nielson responded: "He said generally to me, that if a body is put into hydrohalic acid there's nothing left of it."
Advocate Elsabe Theron, for Leunberg and Adler, likened Nielson to a prison snitch who had motives involving his pending case of theft.
"You are in a position to be declared an habitual offender knowing that a heavy sentence could be imposed on you. If you ever needed a deal it's for this case," Theron said.
However, Nielson, a self confessed alcoholic, denied this saying that he had just asked Stander to put a "good word in for him" so that he may attend a rehabilitation centre when his sentenced is passed.
However, Theron again likened him to a snitch, saying: "There's nothing wrong with a plea bargain but it appears to me that part of this plea bargain was for you to get information in this case."
Panayiotou's mother Fanoula once again attended court proceedings on Tuesday. She has been spotted several times closely following the trial of the German couple.
Fanoula previously said that she was "just interested in the case" as a member from the the public.
Asked if she was not tired of the courts considering that her son’s murder trial was on recess, she said that she was not.
“You don’t get tired when it comes to your child,” she said at the time.
The case against the German pair has been ongoing for more than seven years. Both Leunberg and Adler have pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and murder.
Schroeder disappeared on August 14, 2009, and his body has never been discovered. The State alleges the couple convinced the Schroeders they had the money to make the purchase on the property.
In a different matter, Panayiotou and his co-accused Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko are charged with conspiring to kidnap and kill school teacher Jayde Panayiotou in April 2015. The Panayiotou murder trial is expected to resume next month.