/ 6 May 2008

Najwa tried to cover her tracks, court told

It was a clumsy attempt by Najwa Petersen to cover up her cellphone tracks that gave police a vital lead in solving the murder of her husband, Taliep, the Cape High Court heard on Tuesday.

Superintendent Piet Viljoen, head of detectives at the Western Cape’s organised-crime unit, was testifying in the trial of Najwa and the three men she allegedly hired to kill Taliep on the night of December 16 2006.

Viljoen said he was called to the Petersens’ Athlone home, where the murder was committed, the following morning and found Najwa sitting on a bed with two cellphones in her hand.

When he asked her what had happened, she said there was a robbery, and that the robbers had forced her to take money out of a safe.

At his request she took him to the safe in an adjacent room, and opened it.

Viljoen said inside the safe he saw expensive watches, a small hand-held computer, old coins and foreign currency.

”I was immediately suspicious,” he said.

In all the many house robberies he had investigated, he had never found one where the criminals left goods in a safe.

He asked Najwa for the two cellphones, telling her he wanted to analyse what was on them, and she said one of them, a Nokia 6230i, was her business phone and she could not be without it.

Viljoen told her he would return it to her later that day.

She came to him a little later, agitated, and said she wanted a number from the phone, so he gave the phone to her.

Later he told one of his detectives to seal the phones in plastic forensic bags, and the detective retrieved the phone from Najwa.

Viljoen said when he got back to his office he wrote down in longhand the list of ”numbers dialled” shown on the phone.

Later, when the police had obtained detailed billing from the service provider, he saw the billing contained a number called several times that day that was not on the list he had drawn up.

”I could only conclude that when the accused asked for the phone, she deleted the number,” he said.

Checking the missing number against the contacts stored on the phone, he saw it was listed under the name Fahiem Piele.

He immediately told the investigating team dealing with the case that they should identify this person, ”and that they must also look in more depth at accused one before the court [Najwa] as a suspect”.

One of the first witnesses in the case was an acquaintance of Najwa’s, Fahiem Hendricks, nicknamed Piele, who told the court that Najwa had asked him to arrange a hit on Taliep.

Hendricks is in witness protection.

Viljoen told the court that calls to Hendricks’s number were in fact the last calls made by Najwa on the night of the murder, and these had been erased from the phone.

”Fahiem Piele’s number should have been there. There’s no way, unless it was deleted … That was the last number phoned that night, and there was a conversation of 113 seconds.”

It was this that put detectives on the road to solving the murder, he said.

”That was no house robbery that night. That’s my opinion,” he said.

Earlier, music legend David Kramer was called as a witness in trial.

Kramer, who was Taliep’s partner in a string of musical productions, testified how he, his wife and Taliep would invest in particular productions and share any profit.

Kramer took off his trademark black hat when he was called to the witness box, but replaced it the moment he stepped out again at the end of his testimony.

He told the court that he had known Taliep for 30 years and had been his partner in creating musicals and songs for 20 years.

He agreed with prosecutor Susan Galloway that Taliep was a very private person.

”That’s how I knew him. What I would say is you couldn’t just walk into Petersen’s studio without an appointment.

”This privacy was particularly true after nine at night.”

He told the court he had drawn up a list detailing payments made to Taliep as the proceedings of their joint ventures.

However, in 2003 Taliep had asked him to make out the cheques to Dirk Fruits, a business owned by the family of Najwa.

Later Taliep asked that the cheques be made out to Najwa. — Sapa