Kistnen Murder


Will the truth ever emerge?

The charred body of a citizen of this country was discovered in a sugar cane field at Telfair, Moka, in October 2020. The case has remained unresolved to this day. Police investigation initially pointed to a case of suicide, despite the widow’s pained objections, and it is thanks to the persistent efforts of the ‘Avengers’, led by Rama Valayden, that the issue has been kept alive. Very disturbing practices were thereafter unravelled during the course of a judicial inquiry ordered by the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Satyajit Boolell. The victim, Soopramanien Kistnen, was the former chief agent of the MSM in Constituency of Moka and Quartier Militaire (No 8) at the 2019 general elections and could be presumed to have some inside information as to its conduct in that constituency where the PM and two of his colleagues were elected.

What the judicial inquiry revealed, if we go by the non-disputed extracts of its report which found its way in the press, was a long list of serious deficiencies in the police investigation into what the inquiry concluded to be a case of cold-blooded murder and the likely motives that would explain the latter. The inquiry also brought to light the questionable role played by some investigating officers, the strange circumstances in which the autopsy was carried out, the conflicting evidence of expert forensic doctors on the cause of death, the disappearance or unavailability of vital information such as mobile phones, the mystery surrounding the unavailability of Safe City video recordings of the movements of the victim on the fateful day of his assassination, the suspected connections of the murder with the emergency procurement of medical equipments and drugs in 2020. Furthermore we also learned about the existence of what were thereafter called ‘The Kistnen Papers’ relating to election expenses in that same constituency allegedly in excess of authorised campaign ceilings as prescribed by law.

Besides sharing the grief and sorrows of the family of the victim, media and civil society’s interest in this case can be explained by the widespread suspicion that there was more to it than a petty crime, and that was confirmed by the judicial inquiry. What came out was a total breakdown in the governance culture and practices that for decades had established the Mauritius jurisdiction as a credible rule of law destination. The then Commissioner of Police had made known his determination to go to the bottom of the Kistnen murder and several other alleged suicide cases of public officials, which all seem to have had a connection with the emergency procurements in 2020. We understand from a public statement of Me Rama Valayden that another judicial enquiry has been ordered in one of them, that of Pravin Kanakiah, Procurement Officer at the Ministry of Finance, found dead in suspicious circumstances at Gris-Gris, Souillac, and would start hearings on 28th August 2023. However, the culprit/s is/are still on the run, and at the end of the day, the question that arises is: will the truth about the death of Soopramanien Kistnen ever emerge?

The Avengers have, this week, handed over to the police more detailed information in the form of documents and tapes of CCTV recordings relating to the kidnapping of S. Kistnen and his whereabouts prior to his murder. More details will be made available to the police next week, according to Rama Valayden. We understand that the MCIT has already started investigations into the additional elements of information provided by the Avengers. This is a welcome departure from the initial police inquiry into this murder case, blasted as “a new level of incompetence” by the enquiring magistrate. If conducted with unfettered professionalism, it will hopefully help correct the perception of an ‘instrumentalisation’ of the police to track down and finish off political opponents or for settling political scores, seen during the last few years in particular, which has blemished the image of the police in a large measure.

The core philosophy behind any police force is that it is primarily meant for the protection of the citizen rather than being a coercive instrument at the beck and call of politicians. In Mauritius, this is why the Commissioner of Police’s post is a constitutionally guaranteed one so that he can perform his duties in full autonomy. Any political pressure to tamper with this autonomy can have a boomerang effect when the tables are turned at the next election.

Democracy implies free and fair elections and that alternance should take place without fear by one side or the other that its leaders and supporters could be hounded down, except when rigorous investigations into potential malfaisance during tenure demonstrate the necessity for justice to take its course under the DPP’s supervision and with the full safeguards that the constitution allows. Nevertheless, numerous cases unsolved, sent to the back burner or not even addressed that have taken place in the past few years will have require new impetus from agencies for rapid completion should there be a political change of guards at the next general elections.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 21 July 2023

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