Port Elizabeth – Christopher Panayiotou’s mistress, Chanelle Coutts, took to the stand in his defence on Monday when the trial resumed in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth.
Panayiotou and his co-accused, Sinethemba Nenembe and Zolani Sibeko, are facing charges of conspiring, kidnapping, robbing and killing Panayiotou’s wife Jayde. A fourth suspect, Sizwezakhe Vumazonke, the alleged hitman, died before the trial began.
The beloved 29-year-old teacher was kidnapped outside her townhouse complex in Kabega Park, Port Elizabeth, while waiting for her lift to Riebeek College Girls High School, on the morning of Tuesday, April 21, 2015.
She was found shot dead in a veld outside KwaNobuhle township, Uitenhage, the following day.
Coutts, smartly dressed in a black suit, was composed and kept eye contact with Judge Dayalin Chetty.
She gave concise answers, while her family and friends sat in the front row alongside Panayiotou’s parents.
Details of Panayiotou’s affair came to light when Coutts’ best friend, Clarishka Kapp, took to the stand for the State a year ago.
Kapp had told the court about the relationship between Coutts, who had worked at the OK Grocer, and Panayiotou.
She spoke about expensive gifts, including a Polo handbag, he had given Coutts, how Coutts had slept over at the Panayiotou’s townhouse in Kabega Park when Jayde was away, and how Coutts and Panayiotou would spend nights together at a local hotel.
Media harassment and police interrogation
Questioned by advocate Terry Price SC, representing Panayiotou, Coutts told the court that she had felt intimidated and harassed by the investigating officers and that, during interviews, they had used foul language.
“I was treated very badly. They used foul language. They made sexual comments, nasty comments,” she said.
Coutts said she had sought legal representation after investigating officer Kanna Swanepoel had questioned her in his car outside her flat.
She said he had pressed her on whether she was pregnant.
The family of Chanelle Coutts in the front row at court. (Derrick Spies, News24)
He also wanted to know if she had ever used drugs, if Panayiotou used drugs or if drugs were sold from his club, Infinity.
The following day, there had been a media article that she was pregnant and that Panayiotou had bought her expensive gifts, a car and a house, she said.
Payment of motor vehicle for services rendered
Coutts told the court she had gone to the doctor and had blood tests done to prove she was not pregnant. Her attorney gave the results to police.
She said Panayiotou had never bought her a house, and that the money she received from him towards the purchase of a new vehicle, was a bonus she had received for 10 years of service at OK Grocer.
The payment was not to her but directly to the dealership.
On cross-examination, State prosecutor Marius Stander asked Coutts, who as a manager had knowledge of the OK Grocer’s financial affairs, if the R17 000 reflected on their books.
Coutts said no, but said she had also worked at Infinity nightclub.
Stander then asked if the payment reflected on Infinity’s books.
Coutts said no, the payment had been made from Panayiotou’s personal account.
Honest about affair, phones wiped
Coutts openly admitted to having been in a sexual relationship with Panayiotou.
She said this had started before his engagement to Jayde and continued after his marriage.
They had often spent time together, travelling with him when he was out of town.
Coutts said that shortly after Jayde’s murder, Kapp had told her there were rumours circulating that Panayiotou had had an affair.
She asked Kapp to delete pictures of her and Chris from her phone.
She said both her and Panayiotou had then had their phones wiped, as while they had agreed to be honest about their relationship, they did not want their private conversations made public.
After Coutts’ testimony, Price said he wanted to consult with a witness before concluding his case and asked the matter stand down for the day.
Stander said he would like to recall deputy director of public prosecutions, advocate Selwyn Gounden, when the defence was done.
The trial resumes on Tuesday morning.