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Mysterious calls after the murder

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THERE are some murder cases in the country that are yet to be solved. One of those cases is the murder of Salesh Chand in Lautoka more than one year ago. His charred remains were found in his burnt company vehicle at the Fiji Sugar Corporation's Lautoka Mill yard in the early hours of June 8 last year. A team of police officers on patrol at about 2.45am saw something burning in the mill yard and when they checked, it was a car with a dead man inside. Mr Chand's body was in such a condition that his wife was only able to identify him from the chain he was wearing around his neck. Police classified his death as murder after the post-mortem examination was carried out. As part two of the series into the murder, The Fiji Times talks to the murder victim's wife today and how things transpired for her.

IT was about 5.30am on June 8 last year when Ranjani Devi heard someone knocking on the door of her house.

She was awake as her husband had not returned home after leaving at about 1.30am with another man who was believed to be working with him.

However, the man returned to the Chand's home after some time in another vehicle and when asked by Ms Devi, he said Mr Chand was in Ba.

The man went to sleep and so did the woman who was also drinking yaqona with Mr Chand the previous night until about 1.30am, when the man went with Mr Chand.

Although Mr Chand had told her that the man and woman were working with him, Ms Devi said they were strangers to her because it was the first time they had visited their home.

Mr Chand worked as the retail manager Western for Vinod Patel Company Ltd and he had gone in the company vehicle with the man.

While Ms Devi was thinking about her husband's whereabouts, two employees of Vinod Patel arrived at her house on Bavadra Rd in Kashmir, Lautoka.

"They asked for Salesh and said the company's directors were calling him but his mobile phone was switched off. They also asked if someone else had come home with him the previous night and I told them yes," she said.

"They left and about two minutes later, some police officers came and asked for Salesh. I told them that he had not returned home after leaving at about 1.30am.

"The police officers then asked if two other employees had come home with Salesh and I told them they did and were sleeping inside.

"One of the officers then asked me to wake them up, which I did, and they were taken away by the police officers.

"As soon as they left, my sister and her husband came. She asked for Salesh and was acting a bit strange as whenever her phone rang, she went and spoke far from me. I wondered why."

Ms Devi said at about 8.30am, some Vinod Patel employees arrived at her home and told her that the company vehicle Mr Chand had been driving was found burnt.

She said they told her that there was no sign of her husband.

"I started crying and wanted to go and see the vehicle where it was found but my sister told me that I can't as Salesh had run away somewhere," she said.

"I stayed at home and people were coming and going. I didn't know the actual reason why so many people were coming and going.

"It wasn't until about 5.30pm on June 8 when a truck came to offload corrugated iron and other materials to build a shed that I asked my relatives what it was for.

"They then took me inside the house and told me what had happened, that Salesh was no more. I was shocked. My world had just been shattered."

Ms Devi said it was some time in the afternoon of June 8 when police officers came with the man and woman who were drinking yaqona and then some alcohol with her husband on the night of June 7.

She said the police officers brought them to collect their belongings from her place.

"The man just came and hugged me and said he doesn't know anything about what happened to Salesh and they went away with police.

"I haven't seen them again after that. But since he was the last person who went with my husband, I believe he definitely knows something.

"When I woke up at about 1.30am on June 8 after hearing the car turn in our compound, Salesh and the man had left and the woman was sitting alone in the house.

"I called Salesh about 15 minutes after he had left and he told me that he was in Ba but this was just not possible as he couldn't go from Lautoka to Ba that fast."

Ms Devi said two weeks after her husband's funeral in Suva, she returned to Lautoka with their two sons, who are now aged 17 and 19.

It was around then when she started receiving calls on her mobile phone either close to or after midnight.

"The caller identified himself as Raju when he called the first time and asked if I knew him. I told him that I didn't and asked him how he knows me and Salesh, from whose side he knows us," said Ms Devi.

"He hung up and started calling late at night after that. I told my parents about the calls and they told me to try and talk to that person as he may have some information on Salesh's death.

"The man kept calling me late at night for about six months and he was always talking dirty, and saying things like my husband was dead now and I'm alone and will need company.

"I informed police about these calls and when I moved to Suva after about six months, I received only one call from that man. But he always remained silent whenever I asked him if he knew something about Salesh's death.

"From the way he was talking to me in Hindustani, I could tell that he was not an Indian man but an iTaukei. He seemed to know a lot about me and my husband.

"Until now, I don't know who the caller was. And 14 months after my husband's death, I'm still waiting to know who killed him," said Ms Devi.

* NEXT WEEK: Tracing the victim's movements

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