Of­fi­cers re­in­stated af­ter ap­peal

Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - SE-ANNE RALL

THREE PO­LICE of­fi­cers, con­victed of ex­tort­ing R2 500 from a Dur­ban busi­ness­man in 2015, have won their ap­peal and have been re­in­stated.

Al­though the trio are pleased with the rul­ing, they say it will do lit­tle to clear their names which were “dragged through the mud” dur­ing the trial.

War­rant Of­fi­cers Shivram Ma­harajh, Roshan Rame­sar and Sergeant Solomon Sikobi were granted leave to ap­peal against their sen­tences, which were handed down in the Dur­ban Mag­is­trate’s Court by Mag­is­trate Than­deka Fikeni.

At the time, the of­fi­cers were ac­cused of tak­ing money from busi­ness­man Anesh Bal­raj.

Bal­raj claimed that the of­fi­cers de­manded R5 000 from him when his brother, Kidesh Ramjut­ten, was ar­rested for theft af­ter he took a truck and trailer from a man who owed him money. Bal­raj is be­lieved to have en­gaged the ser­vices of a po­lice­man to act as a debt col­lec­tor.

The man agreed that Ram- jut­ten take his truck and trailer as col­lat­eral, but later changed his mind and laid a charge of theft against Ramjut­ten.

The mat­ter was handed over to Ma­harajh, Rame­sar and Sikobi for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Bal­raj claimed the of­fi­cers met him and de­manded R5 000. He claimed that when he said he could not af­ford this amount, the of­fi­cers dropped it to R2 500.

Bal­raj set up a meet­ing at his busi­ness premises on Marine Drive, on the Bluff, where, ac­cord­ing to the State, Bal­raj agreed to pay R2 500 so he would not be ar­rested. Two days later, Bal­raj laid a charge of ex­tor­tion against the three po­lice of­fi­cers.

Dur­ing their trial, the State led ev­i­dence from five wit­nesses, while Ma­harajh and Rame­sar tes­ti­fied in their de­fence. Sikobi did not tes­tify.

The ap­peal judg­ment stated that Mag­is­trate Fikeni failed to make an as­sess­ment of the ev­i­dence and was there­fore un­able to make fac­tual find­ings.

“There was no ra­tio­nal ba­sis for the con­clu­sion she ar­rived at. The State failed to prove the guilt of the of­fi­cers be­yond rea- son­able doubt. The com­plainant, Bal­raj, was a par­tic­u­larly bad wit­ness. He was not only an eva­sive wit­ness but his ver­sion was rid­dled with in­con­sis­ten­cies and con­tra­dic­tions. The learned mag­is­trate, of course, was quite obliv­i­ous to them. The same crit­i­cism could jus­ti­fi­ably also be at­tached to the ev­i­dence of his brother, Ramjut­ten,” the court pa­pers read.

Speak­ing to the Daily News, Ma­harajh and Rame­sar said be­ing con­victed un­justly was hu­mil­i­at­ing.

“At the time, my daugh­ter was in high school and to have her friends ask her about her fa­ther’s court case was em­bar­rass­ing,” Ma­harajh said.

He added that be­ing a vic­tim of wrong­ful con­vic­tion has had a pro­found ef­fect on his life.

“It was ap­par­ent from the ini­tial charges that foul forces were at play. This con­vic­tion was a shock­ing fail­ure of our le­gal sys­tem. We were with­out jobs and in­comes. It took five years for this catas­tro­phe to end. So while I feel vin­di­cated, this in no way un­does the grave suf­fer­ing we have en­dured.”

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