HAVING previously confessed to having his wife murdered in a staged hijacking in 2010, a Durban man now says he didn’t do it.
Rajiv Sewnarain (43), who was jailed for life, has asked the high court in Pietermaritzburg to review and set aside his conviction and sentence for the murder of his wife, Shanaaz, who was shot dead on December 10, 2010, in a manner reminiscent of the notorious murder of Anni Dewani in Cape Town.
Sewnarain wants a fresh trial.
It was the second time Shanaaz had been shot in a hijacking in a month. She survived an earlier attack in November that year, when she was shot five times.
When he pleaded guilty, Sewnarain said he had hired hitmen to make her murder look like a botched hijacking. To prove his “innocence”, he was shot and wounded in the shoulder before being pushed out of the car.
Sewnarain had arranged with the killer that he would take his wife to buy pizza, give him a missed call, and for someone to jump into the car at an arranged spot.
However, in his latest affidavit before the high court, Sewnarain said this was not true. He did not arrange for his wife to be killed and was unduly influenced to make a confession to a magistrate, and thereafter to plead guilty in the Durban Regional Court.
He said psychologists had found that when he pleaded guilty he was suffering from “survivor’s guilt” for not being able to save his wife and from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was still grieving for her, had not emotionally come to terms with the earlier hijacking incident — especially since his wife had tried to shield him on that occasion — and was on medication that made him “drowsy”.
He had little memory of what happened in court the day he pleaded guilty, he said.
Sewnarain also claimed he was “terrified” after being subjected to a lengthy interrogation and assaults by Warrant Officer Viresh Panday and others at Isipingo police station.
He alleged he was suffocated with a rubber tube and that a gun was pointed at his chest. Blanks were fired at him.
Afterwards, Sewnarain said, Panday turned from “bad cop” to “good cop”, and started to cajole him and win his friendship.
Panday had accused Sewnarain of killing his wife because of his affair with another woman.
Although it was true he was having an affair, he had told Panday that he hadn’t killed his wife.
“He insisted I had and told me he would be able to assist me to plead guilty.”
He alleged Panday “narrated” to him how he’d hired two men — “Boxer” (Yunus Khan) and “China” (Vaughn Oliver) — to carry out the murder. Because of his “mental state” at the time, Sewnarain said, he had “submissively accepted” what Panday told him.
Panday had said that if Sewnarain pleaded guilty he would speak to the prosecutor to request the court to pass a lenient sentence.
Sewnarain said that when he made his confession to the magistrate, he had repeated the version narrated to him by Panday.
Charges against the two alleged hitmen were withdrawn by the state on November 28 last year.
The review will be argued in the high court on July 30 and 31.
Judge Kevin Swain yesterday instructed the state to obtain what the court feels are “vital” affidavits from magistrate Anitha Govender — who took Sewnarain’s confession — and his attorney, Devindran Moodley, who represented him when he pleaded guilty.