‘Witch doctor’ charged over family murders
Police have charged a New Zealand man with the mysterious "witchcraft" deaths of a family of five in the Fijian mountains last month.
Christchurch bus driver and "healer" Muhammad Raheesh Isoof, 62, will face a Nadi court later today on five counts of murder.
Nirmal Kumar, 63, his wife Usha Devi, 54, their daughter Nileshni Kajal, 34, and Ms Kajal's daughters Sana, 11, and Samara, eight, were found dead in the Nausori Highlands last month.
In a shocking twist, Ms Kajal's 12-month-old niece Sumaira was found crawling nearby unharmed.
Locals dubbed the child "miracle baby" after she somehow survived alone in the wilderness for up to 36 hours after the deaths of her relatives.
The little girl was reportedly found lying on her dead grandfather's chest.
With no visible injuries present on the bodies of the five family members, police suspected from the start they were poisoned.
One of the victims was allegedly found with an empty bottle of Coke in her hand which had no label on it.
A post mortem examination linked all five deaths to a "toxic substance", with pathologists sending samples of the substance to Australia for analysis.
Mr Isoof and his wife are longtime friends of the victims and lived next door to the family in the Nadi suburb of Legalega for decades before emigrating to New Zealand.
Last month the couple had returned to their "homeland" for a holiday and allegedly met up with the victims before their deaths.
Mr Isoof and his wife were born in Fiji but relocated to the east Christchurch suburb of Linwood, where he had been working as a bus driver, according to The New Zealand Herald.
Mr Kumar's brother Raj Kumar said Mr Isoof was known locally as "Kamal", a highly-sought after "healer" revered for his "special abilities" who had been treating his sister-in-law Usha Devi for severe abdominal pains for several years.
However police have labelled Mr Isoof a "witch doctor" and enacted a "stop departure order" to prevent he and his wife from leaving the country while the deaths were investigated.
FAMILY 'INTO' WITCHCRAFT
The order was enforced after a court rejected an application to detain them longer than the 48 hours permissible under Fijian law.
Investigators quickly established the family had a long history with Mr Isoof - and a shared fascination with the occult
The father of the two dead children, who was separated from Ms Kajal, said Nirmal Kumar and Usha Devi had a strong interest in witchcraft.
"I never saw anyone or any family so much into witchcraft than my in-laws," he told the Fiji Sun.
"I used to see my in-laws and other witchdoctors making a doll from dough and poking needles in it. I always took my daughters away into the bedroom.
"My wife and daughters were obviously also dragged into it."
Mother-of-two Kelera Toloi, 25, described the incredible moment she found tiny Sumaira at Celekuta, a popular but rugged sightseeing spot, around 9am on August 26.
She had followed others down to the scene following reports a baby had been found alive among the bodies of five people.
Ms Toloi said she did not know how the infant had managed to survive alone without shelter or sustenance but said her inability to walk had probably saved her life.
"I grabbed her and changed her soggy diaper straight away and fed her two milk bottles," She told The Fiji Sun.
"By the looks of it she was hungry but I wonder what inhumane mind could have done such a thing. Fortunately she did not walk or she would have fallen off the cliff. As a mother, it's a really sad scene."
A family friend who requested anonymity said Kamal was used at least three times by the Kumar family to heal Usha Devi's abdominal pains and had been known to carry out the rituals outdoors.
"He prays for them and gives them some herbal medicine or something to drink," the friend told Stuff.co.nz.
"They've performed rituals together at the beach and elsewhere. This is not the first time they've been out together."
Kamal could "fix a problem" by praying for people who came to him for healing, the friend said.
"Headaches, sores on the leg, any type of pain - he had this special power to fix it by praying for people. And he knew about herbal medicine sometimes he would give that too."
The family friend said Kamal was a good man and the whole Legalega community was in shock over what had happened.
Raj Kumar said the family was having a hard time coping with the enormity of the tragedy.
"It's not one, it's five. Five of them and I can't handle much," he said.
"We are trying to do as best as we can and it's not an easy time. We're having a hard time and I can't say much."
A funeral service for the five was held on August 31, with friends and family travelling from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to be there.