“We endured agony, anguish and horrors beyond human imagination.”
This was the sentiment expressed by Wentworth SAPS Warrant Officer Shivram Maharaj who together with W/O Roshan Ramesar and Sgt Solomon Sikhubi, were acquitted and reinstated after they won their appeal despite being convicted for extortion in 2015.
The trio were accused of extorting R2 500 from local businessman, Anesh Balraj.
While they feel vindicated by the victory, W/O Maharaj said it in no way can undo the grave suffering they had to endure for a crime that they did not commit.
The police officers were granted leave to appeal their sentences which were handed down by Magistrate Thandeka Fikeni who at the time found that the state had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Balraj is alleged to have enlisted the services of an off-duty police officer to act as a debt collector at which point the saga unfolded. Balraj was allegedly owed money and a truck and trailer were taken by Balraj’s brother, Kiddesh Ramjutten, as collateral from the man who owed the money. The man apparently agreed to the deal but then had a change of mind and registered a charge of theft.
W/O Maharaj, Ramesar and Sgt Sikhubi were assigned to the case for further investigation. It was alleged by Balraj that the three investigating officers demanded R5, 000 for dropping the case against his brother but negotiated a fee of R2 500. Balraj later opened a case of extortion against the policemen.
In the appeal judgment it was stated that Magistrate Fikeni failed to make an assessment of the evidence and was therefore unable to make factual findings. The court papers stated, “There was no rational basis for the conclusion she arrived at. The State failed to prove the guilt of the officers beyond reasonable 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.”
W/O Maharaj told the Southern Star that their conviction was a shocking failure of the country’s legal system.
“It has been a long arduous battle. It was apparent from the initial charges that foul forces were at play. It took five years for this catastrophe to end through the reckless and irresponsible manner in which this matter was dealt with. We were without jobs and incomes. I suffered two personal tragedies during that time and I was denied the right to grieve for my loved ones,” said W/O Maharaj.
In an interview with the Southern Star, W/O Ramesar, said, “Our conviction was a travesty of justice. It is shocking that we could have a magistrate of such ineptitude sitting on the bench with no knowledge on how to assess evidence.
“My life was turned upside down. It was emotionally traumatic for my family, especially my children. I just want my life back. I want to go back to policing. That’s my passion. We are not just colleagues but a family when we are serving our community and country.”