Authorisation of sting operation in Panayiotou murder case under microscope

Authorisation of sting operation in Panayiotou murder case under microscope

Murder accused Christopher Panayiotou appears before the Port Elizabeth High Court. Picture: ANA

It emerged during cross-examination about how police seemingly went about orchestrating an undercover operation.

A Deputy Director of Public Prosecution based in Grahamstown, Selvan Gounden, told the Port Elizabeth High Court on Thursday that if Christopher Panayiotou’s bouncer willingly participated in the undercover police sting operation, authority for the trap would have not been needed.

Gounden was cross examined by State Advocate Marius Stander after the defence called Gounden as their first witness in the ongoing murder trial involving Panayiotou, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, who are accused of conspiracy to murder Panayiotou’s school teacher wife Jayde in 2015.

Throughout his testimony Gounden vehemently denied giving any such verbal permission or guidance to the police before the sting operation was carried out.

When he first testified on Thursday, Gounden told the court that he did not have authority to give permission for the sting which took place on April 29 April 2015. However, during cross-examination more information came to light on how police seemingly went about orchestrating the undercover operation.

Stander’s questioning to Gounden centered around how police obtained permission in setting up the secret video recording between self-confessed middleman Luthando Siyoni and his boss Panayiotou. In the video Panayiotou chats to Siyoni about what seems to be the murder of Jayde Panayiotou.

In the video Panayiotou seemingly implicated himself in his wife Jayde’s murder. Panayiotou had met up with self-confessed middleman at the Algoa Park Steers on April 29, 2015, just days after Jayde was shot dead. The businessman could be heard becoming paranoid that police were watching his every move and in the video tells Siyoni to destroy his SIM card, cellphone, and further instructed the bouncer not to call him because police were tracing his phone.

The damning video has been aired in court after Judge Dayalin Chetty ruled it admissible earlier this year.

According to the State, Siyoni willingly cooperated with the police in setting up the video. The defence, however, claim that Siyoni was forced and beaten into implicating his boss. It was established in court that Gounden was called by Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Indra Goberdan, and according to cellphone records, the call took place a day before the sting operation took place.

He said she had asked his opinion on the admissibility of the secret video recording at court. “In my opinion I informed her that authorisation [for the sting] was not necessary,” said Gounden.

But Gounden added that he went on to contact Advocate Zelda Swanepoel to ask her if authorisation for a sting operation was necessary. Swanepoel again confirmed that authorisation was not necessary. Gounden went as far as to ask his colleague of 16 years, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution in Grahamstown, Advocate Malherbe Marais, for advice.

According to the prosecution, Marais gave Gounden specific guidelines as to how the operation should take place. These included that no wires were to be used and the undercover should be conducted in a controlled environment, such as in a vehicle with recording equipment.

Gounden though denied that Marais had given him specific guidelines and insisted that Marais was “clearly mistaken”.

“The meeting that took place on April 29 2015, there were no wires used, it was in an controlled environment. How did it happen that police got that information?” asked Stander for the State.

Gounden replied that he could only think it was Marais who had conveyed such guidelines to the police. He further denied having any role in relaying such guidelines to the police.

“That’s not how the DPP works. Marais would have been the one to convey to the police, there’s no middleman in such operations. No DPP office in the country works like that,” said Gounden.

Gounden further denied having had a conversation with Warrant Officer Leon Eksteen on authorisation needed for the sting.

“Police evidence is that they received permission that authorisation for the operation was not needed but guidelines needed to be followed. They were told they can proceed but follow the guidelines. You had no role in that regard?” asked Stander.

Gounden again denied playing any role in giving such verbal permission and said that up until this day there was no paper trail on permission granted for the sting. While testifying, Gounden conceded that his version may well be incorrect because in his mind he recalled conversations with his colleagues had taken place after the sting had been executed.

However, cellphone records in possession of the prosecution point to calls being made prior to the operation taking place.

“There’s basically no file or record of this undercover operation, where this application was granted,” said Gounden.

The trial continues on Friday.

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