Najwa was framed, defence tells court

State witness Fahiem Hendricks, not Najwa Petersen, was the mastermind behind the execution-style slaying of her entertainer husband, Taliep, the Cape High Court heard on Monday.

Petersen’s advocate Johann Engelbrecht was presenting closing argument in the trial of his client and three men she allegedly hired to kill Taliep on the night of December 16 2006.

Hendricks, a takeaway restaurant owner who was warned as an accomplice and is in witness protection, has testified that Petersen asked him to find someone to carry out a hit on Taliep, but that he was not present at the killing.

Petersen’s version has been that she and Taliep were the victims of a robbery that turned lethal, and that she had been framed by Hendricks, who owed her R240 000 for diamonds she had given him to sell for her.

Engelbrecht told Judge Siraj Desai and two assessors that after repeated questioning and harassment by the police, Hendricks had made a statement in which he minimised his own role in the offence and substituted Petersen for himself as the mastermind.

“Hendricks stands a lot to gain if he curries favour with the SAPS [South African Police Service]. We cannot deny that factor,” the gravel-voiced Engelbrecht said.

He pointed to inconsistencies between Hendricks’s testimony and other versions of events, including the exact date on which Hendricks received an alleged R70 000 payment for the hit from Petersen.

“Let’s not go on the nitpicking. Let’s go on the fundamentals of the case,” said Desai, who repeatedly broke into Engelbrecht’s argument with questions and comments.

Engelbrecht’s written heads of argument total 220 pages, causing Desai to remark with a smile as the advocate launched into his address: “If this case is to be determined on the weight of heads, you win hands down.”

Lead prosecutor Shireen Riley earlier told the court that Petersen’s version of events was riddled with improbabilities.

It was interesting, she said, that Petersen presented herself in court as a “rather timid, sickly person with a low functionality”.

The facts were that she was a woman who had power of attorney over her husband’s financial affairs and managed them for many years, earned about R40 000 a month as a businesswoman, engaged in diamond deals and drove a top-of-the-range Mercedes.

“The state’s submission is this portrayal as a helpless woman is a deliberate attempt on the part of the accused to give the impression to this honourable court of a woman who would not conspire with others to hurt a fly,” Riley said.

“It is clear that the accused has no problem with telling blatant lies to a court and also had no problem trying to mislead the court.”

She said Petersen could not explain why, if she was a victim of a robbery on that night, she had hugged Taliep as he lay bound on the floor.

“Surely that type of behaviour was at odds with a victim who had a firearm pointed at her by unknown assailants,” she said.

Petersen could not explain why she never thought of calling the police or an ambulance in the wake of the incident, nor could she explain why, if the robbers had everything they wanted and Taliep was tied up, they had shot him.—Sapa

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