A hotel worker who claims he was phoning his sister when honeymooner Michaela McAreavey was killed actually called her to ask advice after committing the murder, a prosecutor has alleged.
Sandip Moneea has insisted he was chatting to his older sibling for almost five minutes about everyday things at about the time police believe the Co Tyrone teacher was strangled in her luxury hotel in Mauritius.
After the defendant testified in his own defence at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, his sister followed him into the witness box to corroborate his story.
But Malah Gajudhur was forced to deny claims by state prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan that she had only come to court to save her brother.
Mr Manrakhan claimed the defendant actually made the call in the room where Mrs McAreavey was later found dead, just moments after he and co-accused Avinash Treebhoowoon had murdered her.
“You called on your sister after you killed that lady,” he earlier confronted Moneea.
“You did it in the room. You were asking her advice.”
At the claim both the defendant and members of his legal team laughed.
Mr Manrakhan responded sternly: “You are laughing, you seem completely relaxed, you don’t seem like you have got a murder case on you,” he said.
Ex floor supervisor Moneea, 43, from Petit Raffray and former room attendant Treebhoowoon, 32, from Plaine des Roches, deny murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football boss Mickey Harte.
Both men worked in the exclusive hotel at the time of the killing last January.
The prosecution claims they attacked the newlywed when she interrupted them stealing in her room, having momentarily left her husband John at a poolside restaurant.
At the start of the trial’s 29th day, responding to questions from his own lawyer, Moneea said he called his sister to talk about “nothing special”.
“I asked her whether everyone was well,” he said.
“I asked her whether the children don’t misbehave, I asked her whether her husband is well, since he’s a diabetic patient.”
The defendant said his sister also invited him to her house for dinner that night.
He said he declined, as he was taking part in a religious fast.
“I do not eat non-veg on Monday,” he added.
“I was fasting for the god Shira.”
The accused, who is a Hindu, was questioned by his lawyer Rama Valayden for around 20 minutes before cross-examination began.
John McAreavey, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother in law Mark Harte watched from the public gallery as the accused testified in his native tongue Creole. The family members were assisted by a Mauritian who interpreted proceedings.
When it was Mrs Gajudhur’s turn to take the stand she presented a very similar version of the conversation.
“He asked how are the children doing, are they going to school,” she said.
“How is his brother in law.
“I asked him whether he would come over to eat.”
But Mr Manrakhan was sceptical of her account.
“You came here to save your brother because he’s in a problem,” he said.
Mrs Gajudhur rejected the assertion.
“I have taken an oath to say the truth, the jurors are here, it’s for the judge to give justice,” she said.
Around half an hour earlier, Mr Manrakhan directly accused Moneea of the murder.
“On January 10 you were in room 1025 together with Avinash Treebhoowoon when an Irish lady Michaela McAreavey entered and surprised Avinash when he was stealing,” he said.
“Both of you killed that lady. Precisely, Avinash held on her legs while you strangled that lady.”
Moneea responded: “That’s totally false my lord.”
The state counsel continued: “You put her in the bathtub after killing her, opened the tap to erase traces.”
“Lies, all lies,” replied the defendant.
Mr Manrakhan pressed again: “You told Avinash that lady has already seen us both, we need to kill her.”
Moneea said the claim was a “complete lie”.
The accused was on the stand for most of the day, with the majority taken up with cross examination.
The prosecutor confronted Moneea with police claims that he doctored a room report sheet for Treebhoowoon, to place his co-accused cleaning room 1028 rather than 1025.
Comparing the sheet in question with other documents Treebhoowoon had signed, Mr Manrakhan put it to the defendant that the signatures looked different.
Moneea conceded they did not look the same, but he insisted Treebhoowoon had signed the room sheet.
“He signed in front of me,” he said.
But the prosecutor challenged him: “Two things are false – the room 1028 and the signature of Avinash.”
He said assistant police commissioner Yoosoof Soopun saw him quickly filling in a blank sheet when he was at the hotel the day after the murder.
“It’s totally false,” replied Moneea.
“At no time Mr Soopun was with me.”
According to both defendants, Treebhoowoon came to find Moneea around 2pm on the day of the crime to ask him should he clean the McAreaveys’ room – 1025 – even though there was a Do Not Disturb (DND) sign on it.
Treebhoowoon told the court he had met Mr McAreavey around half an hour earlier and he had told him to come back in five minutes.
Moneea has claimed he rang through to the room to see if anyone was there and when no one answered he dispatched Treebhoowoon to clean it. Treebhoowoon said that task took him 25 minutes and he left at 2.35pm – around ten minutes before the prosecution contends Mrs McAreavey was killed.
Mr Manrakhan challenged Moneea at length on this version of events.
He insisted it was against hotel regulations to enter a room to clean it if there was a DND sign on the door.
The prosecutor asked the accused to imagine the same incident had happened at 9.30pm and a client told the cleaner to come back as he was going to the restaurant.
Moneea said they were different situations but insisted it was his principle to phone through to check if the room was occupied and then to send the cleaner in.
Mr Manrakhan said the call was not innocent.
“What are you checking to call there?” he asked.
“To make sure there’s no one there, it’s clear to send someone to steal?”
The accused replied firmly: “No.”
The prosecutor later added: “You took a risk to send him there, that’s what happened, a client returned and she got killed.”
Moneea was probed extensively on his movements prior to the murder and whether they tallied with electronic room entry readings.
At one point he told the court he had gone into room 1009 just after 2.30pm having left it minutes before to go to 1020 to drop off a towel.
Mr Manrakhan asked him who opened the door of 1009 when he returned.
“It was me who opened it,” he said.
The prosecutor then put it to the witness that there was no record of his card having accessed the room at 2.30pm or after.
His disclosure triggered angry scenes in court, with Mr Valayden insisting that his client did not say he had accessed the door.
“Please, please do not fight,” said judge Prithviraj Fecknah, interrupting the two lawyers’ spat.
The judge noted Mr Valayden’s objection but said he did not want him to continue talking in case he suggested an answer to the witness.
As the lawyer spoke further as Moneea was being taken from court ahead of legal argument, Mr Manrakhan told him to “keep quiet”.
“Don’t tell me to keep quiet,” he shot back.
“I will not accept those words.”
After again appealing for calm between counsel, the judge asked the jury to depart as lawyers went to study transcripts of the exchanges to determine what Moneea had said.
It was nearly two hours before proceedings resumed with Mr Valayden telling the court he would not be pressing with his objection.
But when Mr Manrakhan again put the question to Moneea as to why there was no record of him accessing 1009 at 2.30pm or after he delivered a different answer.
“The room was already open,” he said.
Mr Manrakhan was scornful.
“You are a supervisor, you want us to believe that you left a door open for 1009?” he said.
“It was not open well,” replied the accused.
He added: “I was nearby there.”
Mr Manrakhan rejected his claims.
“No one will believe you,” he insisted.
The prosecutor also asked the accused to explain why he had not mentioned stopping by 1020 in any of his police statements.
Moneea replied that the police had not asked him about 1020.
The prosecutor earlier asked the accused was he aware that on the morning of the crime a room service attendant had logged a form with security to inform them that he had seen a wallet lying on a coffee table in 1025.
“No, I did not know,” Moneea responded.
Mr Manrakhan also questioned the defendant about how he was able to work in England for five years from 1999 despite only having a six month tourist visa.
He accused Moneea of using a false French ID card in the UK that was found in his house in Mauritius when he was arrested.
The prosecutor said he must take him, the jury and the judge for fools if he thought they would believe he got a job at a London hotel on his Mauritian passport, even though he had no work visa.
“You are lying, there’s no way you could have got work (with your passport)”, he said “A false ID card permitted you to get a job there.”
Moneea denied he was deported back to Mauritius.
He insisted: “I returned myself.”
Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, representing Treebhoowoon, also asked some questions of his client’s co-accused.
Treebhoowoon claims a confession statement he signed three days after the murder was fabricated and he was tortured into signing it.
Mr Teeluckdharry asked Moneea when he and Treebhoowoon were held in the same police station had he heard noises.
“Yes, I heard someone shout “Oh mother, don’t beat me,” he replied.
“I heard it two times very loud.”