Paradise lost as world's gaze turns to holiday island
Published 13/01/2011 | 05:00
IT was cool inside the only courtroom in the tiny courthouse. Surrounded by a wire fence, the air conditioned building that houses Mapou District Court -- standing alone on the side of the road -- was a most unlikely location for a hearing on a brutal murder which has shocked two countries on two continents.
Outside in the sweltering heat, crowds gathered, waiting for the cases to be dealt with.
Scores of journalists from the local and international media had gathered for the short hearing in this remote part in the north of the idyllic holiday island of Mauritius. The heat seemed stronger still as the sense of anticipation grew.
Three men were due to appear charged in connection with the murder of 27-year-old Michaela Harte, the darling of Mickey Harte's Tyrone GAA team, a new wife to her husband John McAreavey and the apple of her famous father's eye.
The three -- who arrived in three separate vans from different locations on the island -- tried to shield their faces from journalists and photographers as they were led into the courtroom.
The men were all employed at the luxury Legends Hotel where the newlywed teacher was found strangled.
Abinash Treeboowoon (29), a room attendant from Plaine des Roches, and Sandip Moneea (41), a floor supervisor from Petit Raffray, were charged with the former Ulster Rose's murder.
Room attendant Raj Theekoy (33), from Ramnarain Cottage, was charged with conspiracy to murder. It is believed the third accused had arrived at the room with a cart, and fled when he saw Michaela's body.
During a brief hearing they spoke only to confirm their names, addresses and dates of birth.
Family members were distraught as the men entered the building. Mr Treeboowoon sobbed as he entered the court.
His wife Reshma was present, sobbing during the short hearing. She said her husband was "innocent" and accused the police of beating him.
His barrister Ravi Rutnah told the court that he had claimed he had been beaten about the head and body, and had been held on a table and beaten with a pipe on his feet.
He requested from female judge Magistrate Bono Mally that an inquiry be launched and that he receive medical attention. Both requests were granted.
Mr Rutnah told the court the violent murder had tarnished Mauritius's reputation abroad.
The men were refused bail and will appear on a procedural remand hearing on January 19, while a bail hearing will take place on February 2.
The men were taken into separate rooms by police and questioned after the court appearance.
A short press conference was being held simultaneously in the nearby town of Port Louis, attended by the police commissioner, Dhun Ranparsad.
Superintendent Yoosoof Soopun, who is leading the murder investigation, said: "We believe we have substantial evidence to connect them (the three arrested) to the case.
"We presume they were inside and burgling the room when the lady returned and were surprised and attacked her," he added.
Defence barrister Mr Rutnah said outside the court that he had not yet had a chance to speak with his client or receive instruction.
He said the murder -- and subsequent allegations of police brutality -- do not bode well for an island that bills itself as 'paradise'.
"As a result of this atrocious crime, our country is being watched by the international community," said Mr Rutnah.
"I think our country's reputation is at stake."
Hundreds of holiday makers arrive every day and even the immigration guards were curious about the tragic story. "It's so very sad," said one, shaking his head.
When asked, he said that crimes of this nature rarely happened on the island.
And the beaches were still full of blissful sunbathers yesterday, with rowdy singsongs taking place in a number of hotel bars.
Many of the hotels close to Legends, the scene of the crime in the north of the island, are booked to capacity and have no availability for a number of weeks.
Some had not heard of the horror that had occurred so close by so recently.
"Why are journalists here?" asked one confused holiday maker, before turning away in horror when he heard what had happened.
It was paradise lost.