DURBAN – Two of the suspects accused of kidnapping and killing husband and wife botanists Rodney, 74, and Rachel Saunders, 63, were denied bail at the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
Magistrate Irfan Khallil told Fatima Patel, 27, and Sayefudeen Del Vecchio, 38, who are married in terms of Islamic rights, that he was satisfied there was strong prima facie evidence against them.
The suspects had not proven exceptional circumstances to warrant their release on bail, he said, as was required for a schedule six offence. Their release would “undermine public safety” and they might try to escape the country, he said.
Patel and Del Vecchio, together with 36-year-old Malawian Ahmad Mussa are facing charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, theft, contravention of the country’s terrorism act and two counts of murder. Del Vecchio is also facing a count of malicious damage to property.
Mussa, who has abandoned a bail application, appeared in court with the accused couple. He lived on Del Vecchio and Patel’s property at the time of the alleged crime and was described as being Del Vecchio’s friend. The couple lived on a plot in the Endlovini area on the border of the protected Ngoye Forest Reserve, about 150km north of Durban.
Arrested after the couple, 19-year-old Thembamandla Xulu is facing charges of robbery and theft after he was found with the Saunders’ cellular phones. He is now being prosecuted separately.
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Dual British-South African passport holders, the Saunders couple, went missing between 10 and 15 February in the Vryheid area and where they were thought to be searching for rare plants.
The body of Rodney Saunders was positively identified last month while the search for Rachel’s corpse continues.
Advocate Jay Naidoo, acting for Del Vecchio and Patel, argued that the State’s case was based on assumption instead of evidence.
But State prosecutor Adele Barnard said that two search and seizure operations at the accused couple’s rural residence led to the recovery of various items purchased with Rachel Saunders’ bankcard, with corresponding slips found in Patel’s handbag.
A GPS device belonging to the Saunders was also recovered, along with digital communication between Mussa, Patel and Del Vecchio showing they were working together.
A pair of bloodstained trousers belonging to Del Vecchio was also seized. The blood was identified as belonging to Rodney Saunders.
Del Veccchio was also allegedly advising someone via Telegram on bomb making, while Patel was alleged to have helped a 15-year-old teenager “to join ISIL in April 2015”.
The couple were also allegedly in possession of an [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham Islamic State (ISIL or] ISIS flag.
The affidavit also revealed that Mussa told authorities in a statement that Patel woke him to help Del Vecchio dump the bodies of the couple off the Tugela River Bridge.
After the judgement, Naidoo withdrew from the case. The couple confirmed they would apply for legal aid.
They will appear again on Friday to finalise their legal representation.