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The fee to kill

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

IT is said that life is the most precious gift of God to mankind. People say that money cannot buy a life or bring back someone from the dead. Unfortunately people are known to have killed others for money, even if it is a little amount. It could have been a similar thing in the murder of a taxidriver in the year 2000 by three men. For the past few weeks, The Fiji Times took a look back at the disappearance of the taxidriver, the discovery of his body and how police investigations were carried out. As we wrap up the series today, we take a look at how the taxidriver was killed and the payment to kill him.

IT was the morning of March 14, 2000 when police recommenced interviewing the three suspects in the murder of a taxidriver.

One of them who was being interviewed by police detective Dharmen Chandra admitted to him that he killed the taxidriver with the other two suspects.

The taxidriver was last seen in Nadi Town in the evening of March 7 taking three men to Sigatoka and his taxi was found burnt at Nasau, in the highlands, the next day.

His decomposed body was found by police lying on a hill at Ciriwai, between Nadi and Sigatoka, with a green nylon rope tied around his neck.

The body was found in the early hours of March 11 after police detectives were told by a so-called witchdoctor that it was lying there.

Mr Chandra, who now lives in Modesto, California, the US, said the suspect told him how he and the other two suspects hired the taxi to go to Ciriwai to pick some tyres.

"On the way they bought some beer and drank, with the driver also drinking," he said.

"The suspect, who was later convicted by the court, said they asked the driver to stop at the rest area at Nabou pine, next to the Queens highway.

"All three got off the taxi and talked about killing the driver there. But since the area was next to the main road and vehicles drove by, they decided to take him to Ciriwai.

"Once they arrived at Ciriwai, about four kilometres inland from the Queens highway, they asked the driver to stop the taxi.

"The three got off and asked the driver to wait whilst they go and check on the guy from whom they were to pick the tyres."

Mr Chandra said it was around 9:30pm and the area was quiet.

He said the three men got back in the taxi and told the driver to take them to Nadi.

"The suspect, who I interviewed, was sitting behind the driver. As the driver tried to move his taxi, the suspect tied a thin nylon rope around his neck and strangled him to death.

"They then dumped his body down the hill.

"The suspect also said in his caution interview that after they had dumped the driver's body, he took out a penknife from his pocket and slit the driver's neck, making sure that he was dead.

"He then threw the penknife in the nearby bushes."

Mr Chandra said the trio then drove the taxi to the interior of Nadi, where they took out the car stereo, spare tyre, wheel spanner, jack and jack handle.

He said they hid the items in a cane field and drove to Nasau, where they burnt the taxi and went to their homes.

"According to the suspect I interviewed, he was offered $200 cash and a horse saddle to kill the taxidriver.

"It was around 1pm on March 14 when I suspended the interview and took the suspect for the reconstruction of the scene.

"He showed me and Sergeant Adip Narayan Singh the shop from where they bought beer, the rest area along Queens highway where they had asked the taxidriver to stop, and the place in Ciriwai where they murdered the taxidriver and dumped his body.

"He also pointed out the direction in which he had thrown the penknife. A search was conducted and it was recovered some distance away from where the driver's body was found.

"From Ciriwai, we headed to Katiqari and recovered a nylon sack with the items they had taken out from the taxi. They were hidden in the suspect's cane farm.

"The suspect had also mentioned in his caution interview that he used a thin green nylon rope to strangle the taxidriver.

"I asked him where he got the rope from and he told me that he had cut it from a bundle of rope at his home. This bundle of rope was also recovered from his house."

Mr Chandra said they went to Nasau where the taxi was abandoned and burnt.

He said they then headed to Sabeto Police Station where the caution interview was completed and the suspect was formally charged with murder by another police detective.

At about 7pm on March 14, the three men who were now accused of murder were locked in the cell after being formally charged.

They were produced in the Magistrates Court in Nadi the next day and remanded in custody.

Mr Chandra said the case went for trial in the High Court in 2001.

"It was only then I came to know that the iTaukei man was granted immunity and he had become a State witness.

"The other two accused, who were Fijians of Indian descent, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

"The so-called witchdoctor and his wife were never charged.

"This was another one of those kinds of cases that needed a lot of hard work, round-the-clock investigations, good detective ability, and the ability to look into every small bits and pieces, put them together and solve a homicide case which initially had no leads."

Mr Chandra said every officer involved in the investigation did a commendable job.

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