Court views explosive footage of Panayiotou’s ‘secret’ meeting
An explosive video in which Christopher Panayiotou candidly discusses what seems to be his wife’s murder just days after she was kidnapped and executed, stunned Jayde’s family and friends yesterday.
The chilling words: “It became a kidnapping and a murder instead of just making it a robbery outside the house,” drew gasps from the gallery in the Port Elizabeth High Court.
The video, which Panayiotou’s lawyers spent months trying to have ruled inadmissible, has now gone viral on social media, with it being viewed and shared thousands of times on HeraldLIVE’s website.
The impact that the short black and white clip, filmed in an undercover police vehicle, has on the case became clear in the lengthy trial-within-a-trial.
The state and defence spent months fighting tooth and nail for and against the video ever seeing the light of day.
On Monday, Judge Dayalin Chetty found the sting recording to be admissible. He reserved his reasons for his ruling until the finalisation of the case.
“We are just relieved that the footage has finally been viewed,” Jayde’s younger sister, Toni Inggs, said. “We believe this is in the interest of justice.”
As state advocate Marius Stander led the evidence of an undercover policeman from the SA Police Service’s electronics unit yesterday, the court viewed the secret meeting between Panayiotou, 30, and his former employee, self-confessed middleman Luthando Siyoni, 37.
While Siyoni is seated in the back of the vehicle and cannot be seen clearly, Panayiotou took centre stage in the front passenger seat.
The two met at the Engen Garage in Algoa Park on April 29 2015, just eight days after Jayde’s murder.
The video starts with Panayiotou seemingly taking a cellphone apart by removing its battery and SIM card.
Panayiotou asks Siyoni: “Did these guys blit [spill the beans]?”
Siyoni responds that Sizwe (now-deceased alleged hitman Sizwezakhe Vumazonke) is on the run.
Meanwhile, the undercover policeman, who cannot be named because of the nature of his job, testified that the Nissan double cab was fitted with electronic audio and video devices.
The warrant officer arranged for the vehicle to be brought down from East London on the morning of April 29 2015.
He then met with investigating officer Captain Kanna Swanepoel at the offices of the organised crime unit.
“I was to ensure that the recording device was functioning and to show the policeman using the vehicle how the equipment works,” he said.
He said the video was recorded on an SD card and, from there, it was copied over to a DVD.
He said the officers left with the vehicle and when they returned after the meeting, he and Swanepoel viewed the footage.
In the recording, Panayiotou is heard telling Siyoni not to phone him again, before handing him about R5 000 in cash.
Panayiotou then tells Siyoni to destroy his cellphone and SIM card. He turns around and apparently searches Siyoni for a wire.
“It became a kidnapping and a murder instead of just making it a robbery outside the house,” Panayiotou tells the former bouncer.
The state has alleged that Panayiotou paid Siyoni to find hitmen to carry out the hit.
Siyoni, who initially confessed to his involvement, has since recanted.
As the video played in the high court, Panayiotou watched intently on the big screen.
The warrant officer said once he copied the footage onto the DVDs, he handed them over to Swanepoel and had not viewed the footage again until yesterday. “I never tampered with anything.”
Defence advocate Terry Price SC, who abandoned his earlier bid to have the judge recused from the case, said he would aim to attack the integrity and accuracy of the recording.
Asked if he had recorded the finer details of that night in his police pocket book, the officer said he did not deem it necessary.
“So in other words [when giving your statement] you were asked to cast your mind back 15 months without having notes to refer to,” Price said.
The policeman responded that this was no different from the way he usually did things.
Price said it was very important for the court to know that Swanepoel and the officer viewed the recording before it was copied over to DVD.
He said recordings could be edited on a computer. “This is crucial to the chain of evidence.”
Asked about the SD card on which the recording was initially made, the officer said it was no longer available as they had to use it in other operations.
“Should you not have put it in an exhibit bag?” Price asked. “The defence is entitled to check the prime source of your information.
“The defence’s right to check this prime source has now been taken away.”
The trial continues today.