Officers reinstated after appeal
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.”