Chris Panayiotou appears at the Port Elizabeth Magistrate's Court on charges related to the kidnapping and murder of his wide Jade, on 4 May 2015.
PORT ELIZABETH – Explosive allegations of State witnesses being taken out, horrendous conditions at St Albans prison and a R2 million house he bought for the wife he loved were just some of the fascinating elements which emerged from the bail hearing of murder accused Christopher Panayiotou in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court this week.
The 28-year-old Panayiotou, charged with orchestrating the murder of his school teacher wife Jayde, formally launched his bail application on Thursday.
When senior state advocate Marius Stander read out the charges against Panayiotou, it came to light that a fifth charge of defeating the ends of justice had been added to the charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and kidnapping which he and co-accused Luthando Siyoli and Sizwezakhe Vumazonke face.
The State said on 29 April Panayiotou allegedly unlawfully encouraged Siyoli to flee Port Elizabeth to avoid being caught and arrested by the police. The State further alleged he paid Siyoli R5,000 to flee town and encouraged him to destroy cellphone sim cards used when the men allegedly conspired to murder Jayde.
Panayiotou is an awaiting trial prisoner at St Albans prison following his shock arrest in connection with the plot to kidnap and murder his 29-year-old wife, and it was the conditions in prison which grabbed much of the early attention during the bail hearing in the Port Elizabeth courtroom where Panayiotou’s family took up most of the front row in the public gallery.
His legal team of top Port Elizabeth attorney Alwyn Griebenow and senior advocate Terry Price submitted a series of affidavits from, amongst others, members of his family, his staff and accountants, but it was Panayiotou’s own affidavit which kept the courtroom riveted.
In his affidavit, read into the court record by Price, Panayiotou slammed the appalling living conditions and the food at the St Albans prison where he has already spent more than two weeks in the awaiting-trial section.
He claimed that the “despicable” and “disgusting” conditions were in contravention of the Correctional Services Act.
According to Panayiotou, the awaiting-trial section was “horrifically” overcrowded, not well lit and exposed him and others to potential health hazards. He further complained about the ventilation and the ablution facilities and said he was disturbed by the fact that the toilet he had to share with other inmates was not partitioned off. He said it was embarrassing and humiliating to go to the bathroom.
Also on his list of grievances was nutrition. Panayiotou claimed that the food he was given in prison did not meet the requirements of all the nutritional food groups. In his affidavit he termed the food “disgusting”.
Price said his client had been moved to a single cell on Sunday but said his client was not likely to survive confinement awaiting trial in a single cell.
In his own affidavit, Panayiotou’s financial situation and business affairs were also laid bare as he attempted to convince the court that he would not be a flight risk due to his many business interests in town.
It emerged that he owned a 10 percent share at OK Foods in Algoa Park along with his dad Costa and an uncle who conducts business in Johannesburg. The store’s turnover was between R4-million and R6-million per month and Panayiotou drew a salary of R30,000 per month from the store.
According to Panayiotou, OK Foods employed sixty employees, whose livelihoods and that of their families depended on their salary. He argued that should he not be released on bail the business would go under and place the livelihoods of the staff in jeopardy. This fear was supported by an affidavit from his accountant and his staff.
Currently he runs the business by means of notes he wrote to his family from prison, the court heard.
While speaking of OK Foods, it came to light that his manageress, Chanelle Coutts had suffered a breakdown and was no longer able to work. Unconfirmed rumours of Coutts and Panayiotou having an affair surfaced in the wake of his arrest.
Price said Coutts could not handle constantly being questioned by the police and she had also received death threats from members of the public.
Infiniti Pub, also owned by Christopher, and where Siyoli was employed as a bouncer, was valued at R750,000, while an internet caf he owned in Cotswold brought in about R10,000 per month.
Members of the public gallery gasped when Price revealed that Panayiotou had recently bought a R2.2-million home in Lovemore Estate where the couple were going to live.
“This bond has already been approved. He is the only person that can pay this bond. If he remains in custody he will lose all his assets and won’t be able to pay his debts,” said Price.
He described his client as a friendly person with no previous convictions and who had never made any threat of violence against anyone.
Price further said Christopher had already handed over his passport to Griebenow and that he had no intention of leaving the country.
His defence team also contended that the State had not provided a motive as to why Panayiotou would have wanted to kill Jayde.
Price dispelled rumours that Jayde had a life insurance policy that Christopher could benefit from and added that the couple were not married in community of property so his client stood to gain nothing from her death.
“They were in love and they got along well,” Price told the court.
Price also revealed that Panayiotou had apparently been approached by someone who said the only way to make the case “disappear” was to take out the State’s key witness, believed to be Siyoli.
The defence further slammed the State for “creating the impression through the media” that certain tapes and recordings (allegedly obtained when they used Siyoli to entrap Panayiotou) would be admissible against their client”.
“This trap may well fall foul of being obtained legally,” Price said. “There is also no evidence of direct contact between my client and accused number three (Siyoli).”
Panayiotou’s parents, Costa and Fanoula Panayioutou, also handed in affidavits attesting to the character of their son.
The couple described their son as a soft-hearted person who was incapable of being involved in Jayde’s death. They also claimed that Jayde’s own father did not believe Christopher was involved and and relayed such to a policeman, Warrant Officer Shane Bosch.
By agreement between the State and the defence, Magistrate Abigail Beaton granted a postponement when Stander requested one to allow the State to prepare and finalise opposing affidavits.
“There were certain aspects raised regarding the conditions in prison that must be taken up with the Department of Correctional Services,” Stander said. “We also need to look into the statements made that his business will suffer and the financial position of the accused. His salary of R30,000 and other figures does not match up when one looks at the expenses.”
Stander undertook to furnish the defence with his opposing affidavit by Saturday. He would formally file it at court on Monday.
Beaton postponed the bail hearing to 20 May.