A hotel worker accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius has been branded a serial liar who has invented stories to support his alibi.
A prosecutor put it to Avinash Treebhoowoon that he had concocted parts of the testimony he gave to court, as it contradicted the version of events he provided to police when first arrested.
But during a marathon day on the witness stand at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, where proceedings extended three hours longer than anticipated, the defendant vehemently rejected the allegations.
“I did not lie,” he insisted during intensive cross examination.
Earlier, while answering questions posed by his own lawyer, Treebhoowoon told the jury he had no choice but to sign an admission because police allegedly threatened to lock up his parents and deport his wife.
He broke down and wept as he claimed officers told him they could do what they liked to his loved ones because they had the government “in their hands”. Court was adjourned for a period to allow him time to compose himself.
The accused also alleged that police repeatedly pushed his head under water during interrogation, forcing him to vomit blood.
Treebhoowoon, who testified in his native French Creole, and co-accused Sandip Moneea deny murdering the 27-year-old newly wed in the island’s luxury Legends Hotel last January.
Both defendants worked at the exclusive beachside resort at the time of the murder and the prosecution claims they attacked Michaela McAreavey when she caught them stealing in her room.
Treebhoowoon had already been in the witness box for approaching four hours, on what was his second day giving evidence, when the defence concluded their questions.
However, despite it having reached a juncture when court ordinarily rose for the day, judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah allowed cross examination to commence, later explaining he was mindful of the state’s concerns that the testimony be “split”.
For the next few hours, as darkness descended outside, chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan pressed the defendant time and again to explain apparent discrepancies in his accounts of his movements the day Mrs McAreavey was murdered.
The Co Tyrone teacher’s widower John, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother in law Mark Harte remained throughout all of the gruelling 25th day of the trial. They were assisted by a local Mauritian who translated proceedings.
Treebhoowoon had already told the court a confession statement he signed three days after the January 10 crime was entirely fabricated and he was forced to put his name to it.
He claimed that two other statements given to police before that one, in which there were no admissions, were also incorrect.
But after rigorous probing by Mr Manrakhan and judge Fecknah, the defendant conceded the facts contained in the statements were correct and what he meant to say was that they were “incomplete”, having missed out certain details.
The prosecutor then set about comparing the accounts in those statements to the testimony the witness gave in court.
In evidence to the jury, the accused said he had been in the room where Mrs McAreavey was found dead – 1025 – to clean it on the day of the crime, but had left at 2.35pm - 10 minutes before the prosecution contend she was strangled.
In the crucial 45-to-60 minute period that followed 2.35pm, Treebhoowoon said he was completing various other jobs.
These included replacing shampoo in room 1023, delivering cocktail invites to other guest rooms, stopping at an equipment pantry, visiting the hotel’s boathouse to get a wheel on his trolley pumped and finally chatting with co-workers, including Moneea, outside room 1012.
It was then the alarm was raised about Mrs McAreavey’s body having been found.
Mr Manrakhan pointed out there was no mention of replacing the shampoo in 1023 in the statement he made to police on the January 11 – the day after the murder.
“You lied in your statement?” he asked. “You told a big lie?”
The accused replied firmly: “No.”
The prosecutor told Treebhoowoon he said he spent three minutes in the pantry while testifying, yet in the statement of January 11, 2011 he put that timeframe at ten minutes.
“I tell you you told a lot of lies today,” he said. “Did you tell lies in your statement or not?”
The defendant said he already been subjected to police brutality at that point in police custody.
“When my statement was taken I was disturbed (in the head),” he insisted.
The defendant had told the court he had been talking with Moneea and two co-workers outside room 1012 for half an hour.
Mr Manrakhan pointed out that he claimed he had been with them for 15 minutes in the version he gave to police.
“Why did you say 30 minutes yesterday?” he asked. “Did you say 30 minutes because you wanted to invent a story?”
“No,” replied Treebhoowoon.
“You had to invent a story,” the barrister pressed.
Again the accused responded “no”.
“Which is it,” said Mr Manrakhan. “15 minutes or 30 minutes?”
“30 minutes,” said the defendant.
“That means you lied about 15 minutes,” state counsel replied.
“I was disturbed,” said Treebhoowoon.
Mr Manrakhan went on to highlight a series of other apparent inconsistencies.
He questioned the claimed length of time – five minutes – it took the defendant to walk to the boathouse, why he had never mentioned the name of the boathouse manager to police and why he failed to tell officers of an encounter during the crucial period when he said he saw Moneea talking on the phone, even though he was able to recount it in court.
“On the 11th (January, 2011) details are fresh in your head,” said the prosecutor. “But it’s another one and half years later that you remember these things that happened? You invented the story that Sandip was on the phone – it’s a story.”
“No, that’s not true,” replied Treebhoowoon.
The accused has told the court he went to clean the McAreaveys’ room despite a Do Not Disturb sign being on the door.
He said he did this on Moneea’s instructions.
Mr Manrakhan said such an action was against hotel policy and asked why he had done it.
“It’s not against procedures,” insisted Treebhoowoon.
“Why are you covering for him (Moneea)?” responded the lawyer.
“No, I’m not.” he said.
Yesterday, Treebhoowoon revealed to the court he had experienced a problem at a previous hotel he worked in when he was wrongly accused of theft, insisting he was cleared by a disciplinary committee.
Today he confirmed to Mr Manrakhan that he been arrested during the episode, which saw an Italian couple claim they had €500 stolen.
Earlier, giving his evidence in chief to his own lawyer, Treebhoowoon claimed police threatened to send his wife Reshma to Ireland to live with Mr McAreavey, alleging that an officer told him “that man’s wife is dead, he needs a woman to live with”.
He said police also said they would lock up and torture his parents.
“At that time I just thought of my family,” he said. “I had to sign.”
Treebhoowoon signed a police diary book on the day in question, January 12, admitting involvement. The following day he signed a full confession statement. He claims both were extracted by police brutality.
At one point Judge Fecknah adjourned court for 10 minutes to allow the visibly emotional witness time to compose himself.
Earlier, Treebhoowoon recounted to his lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry an alleged incident at the offices of the police’s major crime investigation team (MCIT) in Port Louis when he was stripped and tortured with a bucket filled with water.
“Mr Manoovaloo (police constable Jean Robert) held my neck from behind and other officers blocked my hands and legs,” he alleged.
“Manoovaloo held my head in the bucket of water around six or seven times. My head was in the bucket, I was struggling. I couldn’t breathe, I was choking. Manoovaloo pulled out my head and gave me a punch on my back and I was vomiting blood.”
He added: “I crossed my hands and I told them: I would fall at your feet, don’t take away my family.”
He said police told him not to tell his lawyer about the abuse.
And the following day he said they again warned him ahead of returning to the police station to sign his full confession.
He said officers threatened to throw him under the wheels of a bus.
The defendant alleged police told him to make sure to do exactly as they said when giving his statement otherwise they would act against his family.
He further claimed that his lawyer Ravi Rutnah was threatened by police and told to remain quiet as he attempted to make him aware of his rights.
“I was crying,” said Treebhoowoon. “I looked at my lawyer, I wanted to tell him something but I was scared to tell him.”
He added: “Mr Gerard told me to sign there, and I had to sign there. Whatever he told me to sign I signed, nothing was read to me.”
The said he was then taken back to Legends to take part in a reconstruction exercise. He said he was told to stand and pose at certain points in and around the crime scene and again threatened with serious consequences if he did not co-operate.
The accused claimed he finally was able to tell his lawyers about the abuse meted out to him when he had his first private interview with them four days later.
“It was the first time I met with my lawyers personally,” he explained.
Fellow Legends room attendant Raj Theekoy, who was originally arrested in connection with the case but later freed, has already testified for the prosecution to implicate Treebhoowoon and Moneea.
Treebhoowoon claimed he was a lair.
“My lord, Raj Theekoy doesn’t speak the truth, he’s lying,” he said.
Finally, Mr Teeluckdharry read the official charge facing his client – that along with Moneea he murdered Mrs McAreavey with premeditation.
“It’s not true,” replied Treebhoowoon. “It’s lies, I never saw that woman, never talked to her, I didn’t know her.”
Rama Valayden, barrister for Moneea, briefly examined his client’s co-accused.
He asked was he on medication.
“Yes, since police officers have beat men I got really scared,” Treebhoowoon responded. “I can’t sleep, I only think about what happened.”
Mr Valayden continued: “Have you nightmares about the MCIT?”
“Yes,” the defendant replied.
Later the lawyer asked him had he lied to cover for Moneea.
“No I haven’t lied,” he said. “I only speak the truth.”