Former Panayiotou family friend takes the stand as murder trial continues

BY JESICA SLABBERT - NOVEMBER 29, 2016

Day 33 of the Christopher Panayiotou murder trial saw the State calling Warrant Officer, Leon Eksteen, from the Port Elizabeth SAPS Organised Crime Unit to the stand. Eksteen is actually a former friend of the Panayiotou family.

Panayiotou is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and subsequent murder of his wife Jayde.

The Port Elizabeth High Court on Monday heard that Eksteen had been friends with Panayiotou’s parents for 16 years, and has often been invited to a few family functions.

Eksteen told the court that Christopher grew up in front of him and that he was invited to the latter’s wedding.

He said that he first got involved in the Jayde murder case after receiving a request from Panayiotou’s father, Costa, who had asked for help when Jayde went missing.

Eksteen was later approached by Investigating Officer, [insert first name] Swanepoel, to assist local police with the case.

He told the court that he was asked to record Christopher’s phone calls on his phone as he was a friend of the family and Christopher had just been implicated by Luthando Siyoni, the alleged middle-man, who has recently been declared a hostile witness.

Eksteen said that he was not aware of the nature or scope of initial questioning of Siyoni - he was just informed of the basics. He added that the investigating team then decided what information was to be conveyed to Panayiotou, and that Siyoni had to phone him to get him to implicate himself.

State Prosecutor, Marius Stander, then played the recording for the court.

Eksteen then stated that Siyoni had been assisting the SAPS of his own free will and wasn’t forced to do anything against his will.

Stander then went through a series of different recorded phone calls from Eksteen and asked him to contextualise their transcripts.

Eksteen said that they were getting full cooperation from Siyoni, and that it was his idea to use the phones to implicate Panayiotou in the first place and prove himself.

He also stated that Siyoni was never threatened in his presence.

Defence advocate, Terry Price, then proceeded with his cross-examination and began by asking him about a certain statement he had made in some of the recordings.

Price mentioned the part where Eksteen said Siyoni could go to jail for 25 years should the sting operation fail. Eksteen said that Siyoni had already confessed at that point and that he was stating a fact.

The Defence then accused Eksteen of regularly borrowing money from Costa Panayiotou, and that he had asked for money to hire a helicopter to find Jayde, when she was missing.

Eksteen vehemently denied this and sounded outraged at the accusation.

“Listen, I was friends with this family until Chris was arrested,” he inisisted.

Price will continue with his cross-examination on Tuesday and plans to play a recording that implies that Eksteen told the Panayiotou family that Siyoni had been ‘roughed up’.

The trial continues.