Court rules woman missing for 12 years can't be declared dead
It has been 12 years since Durban businesswoman Faieka Esop Ali, 41, disappeared without trace, but on Friday an inquest court ruled there was not enough evidence to pronounce her dead.
Relatives, including her two brothers who have toiled tirelessly to find out the truth about what happened to her, left the Durban inquest court immediately after magistrate Irfaan Khalil handed down his ruling, blaming police bungling for the fact that there were still more questions than answers.
The man once accused of her murder, her former boyfriend and medical supply company owner Sateesh Isseri, also left court without commenting on the ruling.
Ali, a divorcee with two children, was in both a business and romantic relationship with Isseri for about six years. The two had decided to split up and had agreed that Isseri would give her the house she lived in in Hillary and R500,000.
Just prior to her disappearance Isseri’s wife and son had confronted her at the house and smashed windows. Ali was last seen getting into Isseri's car on February 9 2007.
He had previously claimed that she had wanted to see her moulana (religious leader) but on the way there she had become aggressive and smashed the windscreen, forcing him to stop near Parlock.
She had phoned the moulana and when he arrived she had voluntarily got into his vehicle.
The magistrate, in handing down his ruling, said the failure by various investigating officers to interview the moulana - who has subsequently died - was just one factor in what he described as the "appalling ineptitude of the police".
They had also not properly followed up on a statement by a business associate of Isseri who had claimed that Isseri had buried Ali’s body at his business premises and had removed it the next day.
A forensic examination of the site, which revealed nothing, was conducted at the insistence of the court during the inquest.
"The family sincerely believe that she is dead and that she has been murdered. But there must be sufficient facts to lead to this conclusion," Khalil said.
Indications that Ali could be alive included a Facebook page opened in 2009, purportedly by Ali. Some of the pictures have been positively identified as being of Ali. In them she "appeared plumper" and they could have been taken after she disappeared.
"While it has been suggested the page is fake, it creates some doubt as to whether she is dead," said the magistrate.
Khalil said there was also evidence that Ali had multiple passports, was a regular traveller and yet, to this date, Interpol and other agencies had not been brought into the search.
The inquest was initiated after murder charges were withdrawn against Isseri in the high court in Durban in January 2017.
Khalil said Isseri had made a "good impression" in his evidence during the inquest - and, most strikingly, his version of events had not been challenged, nor had a contrary version been put to him.
Isseri was, however, facing charges of "paying money" to one of the investigating officers. Ali's relatives were also facing similar corruption charges.
"There have been false statements and interference in the investigation," Khalil said. "Ali has been let down by people in the system. Today, 12 years later, we are in no better position to ascertain what happened. And the family must continue to live in anguish.
"It is conceivable that she is alive ... this is a case of justice delayed, justice denied."
He ordered that the transcript be submitted to the director of public prosecutions and that the conduct of two attorneys, whom he accused of unprofessional behaviour, be reported to the Legal Practice Council.