McAreavey accused denies phoning sister for advice after murder

Wed, Jul 4, 2012, 01:00

A HOTEL cleaner accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey has denied a claim that he phoned his sister minutes after committing the crime to ask her for advice.

Giving evidence in his defence, Sandip Moneea told the murder trial in Mauritius yesterday that he made a four-minute call to his sister at 2.45pm on January 10th last year. That is the time the prosecution says Mr Moneea and his colleague Avinash Treebhoowoon murdered the Irish woman.

Describing the call as “nothing special”, he said he inquired after his sister’s family and declined an invitation to dinner that evening.

“I asked her whether everyone was well,” Mr Moneea said. “It was her child’s first day at school – I asked whether he behaved. I asked her whether her husband was well, because he suffers from diabetes. She asked me to come to her place for roti . I said ‘No, not today.’”

In cross-examination, prosecuting barrister Mehdi Manrakhan put it to Mr Moneea that he made the call from inside room 1025 – the McAreaveys’ room – rather than in the corridor near room 1010, as he claimed.

“You called your sister after you killed that woman. You did it in that room. You were asking her for advice,” the lawyer said. This was denied by the defendant.

Ms McAreavey, a 27-year-old teacher from Co Tyrone, was strangled while on honeymoon with her husband, John, in Mauritius last year. The prosecution claims she was killed when she returned to her hotel room to fetch biscuits and found Mr Moneea (43) and Mr Treebhoowoon (32) stealing. Both men deny the charges.

Mr Moneea said the only time he set foot inside room 1025 on the day of the killing was when he came on the scene with other staff members after the alarm had been raised.

The defendant described seeing a woman’s body on the floor near the bathroom and said he left the room after a short time when the manager ordered everyone out. In police photographs taken at the crime scene, Ms McAreavey is wearing a brown skirt but Mr Moneea said she was not wearing a skirt when he saw her lying on the floor.

Mr Moneea worked at Legends Hotel for six years and yesterday he showed the court seven letters of appreciation he received for his work during that time. In the witness box for eight hours, he faced detailed questions about his movements in the deluxe block at the hotel, where he worked as a supervisor, at about the time of the killing.

Picking up on Mr Moneea’s claim that he briefly entered room 1020 to replace a beach towel at 2.48pm, Mr Manrakhan said he had not mentioned this in any of his statements to police.

Mr Moneea said that after visiting room 1020 he went to room 1009, opened the door and entered. However, Mr Manrakhan pointed out that electronic door readings did not show Mr Moneea’s magnetic card being used to enter room 1009 at about that time. Mr Moneea maintained he opened the door.

A short time later, he told the court he had earlier left the door propped open because he knew he would be returning. “I am telling you, you are lying,” said Mr Manrakhan. “There was no reason to leave it open. You had your card with you.” Mr Moneea replied: “No, I did it because I was nearby. I knew I would return to that room again.”

The court previously heard that police found a fake French identity card in Mr Moneea’s home after his arrest last year. He told police it was given to him unsolicited by a Mauritian contact in London, where he lived between 1999 and 2004, but that he had not used it.

In court yesterday, Mr Moneea said he travelled to England on a six-month tourist visa and then stayed on illegally. He did some painting work before securing a job at a hotel through an agency.

“How come you got a job with a Mauritian passport when you didn’t have the right to work in England,” Mr Manrakhan asked. “They interviewed me,” he replied. “They told me to leave my passport with them. The agency did it all.”

“Do you have any document from the agency to prove what you are saying,” the lawyer went on.

“No,” the witness replied.

Mr Manrakhan put it to Mr Moneea that he used the fake French identity card to get the job, and asked the accused man whether he took him, the judge and jury “for fools”. Mr Moneea insisted he had used his Mauritian passport while in England.