Christopher Panayiotou’s mistress said she bore no knowledge of his wife Jayde’s murder and could not explain yesterday why her handset had been used 17 times to contact one of the men initially approached to carry out the alleged hit.
Chanelle Coutts, 29, finally took the stand in the Port Elizabeth High Court after months of speculation as to whether or not she would testify.
Dressed in black slacks and a jacket, Coutts battled to hide a nervous tremor in her voice as she was led by defence advocate Terry Price SC.
It had emerged shortly after Jayde’s kidnapping and murder in April 2015 that Coutts and Panayiotou, 30, had been having an affair.
She worked as a store manager at the Panayiotous’ OK Grocer in Algoa Park and began an intimate relationship with Panayiotou in late 2012, prior to his marriage to Jayde, 29.
On April 29 2015, eight days after Jayde’s murder, she was interviewed by the police.
“They [police] came to the OK and informed me that they wanted to interview me.
“I asked if I could meet them after I had finished my shift but they refused,” Coutts said.
She said the officers then took her to a house in Newton Park, where she was questioned by investigating officer Captain Kanna Swanepoel and Warrant Officer Leon Eksteen for more than three hours.
She was eventually dropped back at the OK close to 8pm that night.
She said inaccurate details were included in her statement, such as the OK being in financial trouble and the fact that Panayiotou had become jealous when he discovered she was chatting to another man on Facebook.
“I then decided to hire an attorney because of the pressure from the police and media.”
Her attorney, Danie Gouws, listened attentively as Coutts testified.
“I was put under a lot of pressure. The state insinuated that I was covering for Chris.”
She said a couple of days later Swanepoel met her outside her home once again, asking if she was pregnant. “I felt humiliated and went for blood tests to prove I was not pregnant.”
She said she also repeatedly told the police that she had no knowledge of Panayiotou using or selling drugs.
She had recorded the numerous consultations between herself, Swanepoel and state advocate Marius Stander.
“I was treated very badly. I felt intimidated. They made nasty, sexual comments and even nasty comments about the deceased [Jayde].”
Asked about gifts Panayiotou had given her, Coutts denied that he had bought her a car.
“In November 2014 I had been at OK for 10 years so Chris gave me a R17 000 bonus which I used towards a deposit on a car.”
She said she did, however, travel with Panayiotou and the two of them stayed over in hotels or at Jayde’s house when she was away.
He had also bought her an expensive handbag and other gifts.
The state’s cellphone expert, Thereza Botha, testified earlier this year that Coutts’ handset had been used to contact a man known only as “Trompie” 17 times prior to the murder.
It is alleged that Trompie was initially approached to carry out the hit.
Each call seemingly went to voicemail and there was no communication between the two.
“Prior to the case I had never heard of Trompie and I never lent Chris my phone,” she said.
Questioned then by Stander as to why the R17 000 bonus was not reflected in OK’s books, Coutts said it was paid out of Panayiotou’s private account.
She said a couple of days after the murder, as rumours of her affair with Panayiotou began to spread, they decided to wipe all messages and photographs from their phones.
“On 26 April I was contacted by Donovan Vosloo and he connected our phones to a computer and wiped everything.”
Asked by Stander what her reaction had been when Panayiotou informed her that he was engaged, Coutts said she was not too upset because their relationship was still new.
She was only hurt when Panayiotou announced later that he and Jayde were getting married and when they decided to buy a house in Lovemore Heights.
“I did not display my hurt to Chris,” she said.
The trial continues today.