Burnt body victim named as search goes offshore

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 14:20 24/01/2011
Ranjeeta Sharma
VICTIM: Police have named the woman whose body was burnt to death on a Waikato roadside as Ranjeeta Sharma.
Subaru station-wagon
WANTED CAR: Police are appealing for sightings of a silver Subaru station-wagon, registration FSD 433 in the South Auckland and Huntly-Rotowaro areas.

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The woman whose body was burnt to death on the side of a Waikato road has been named as police launch an international search for her husband.

Police today named the woman as Ranjeeta Sharma, 28, of South Auckland, and are working with Interpol to track down her husband, who fled the country on Friday with their four-year-old son.

The couple are both Fiji nationals and her husband is believed to have fled to Fiji with Mrs Sharma's car recovered at Auckland airport.

Mrs Sharma's body was spotted burning by the side of Hangapipi Rd, southwest of Huntly, about 10pm on Thursday.

Detective Senior Sergeant Nigel Keall of the Waikato CIB said the focus was now on finding her husband, whom police were yet to name.

"He is considered a person of considerable significance to the investigation and we are working with Interpol to locate and speak to him. We are also working with overseas authorities to establish the wellbeing of the young boy and ensure his safety."

Mr Keall confirmed police were executing search warrants at a number of addresses over the next few days in the South Auckland area.

Police have moved a large proportion of their investigations to Counties Manukau because it is where Mrs Sharma "lived, where she worked and where she had some family, friends and associates", said Mr Keall.

He said Mrs Sharma's family were in shock but have been very helpful.

A key focus of the inquiry now was establishing Mrs Sharma's movements and how she came to be on Hangapipi Rd.

Police are also appealing for sightings of Mrs Sharma's car, a silver Subaru station-wagon, registration FSD 433 in the South Auckland and Huntly-Rotowaro areas on Thursday or Friday.

Mr Keall had earlier confirmed Mrs Sharma was still alive when she was set alight and forensic tests had confirmed an accelerant was used.

Police would not comment on whether the case was a "bride burning", or honour killing, a form of domestic violence practised on the Indian subcontinent when a victim had brought shame on the family.

But the manner in which Mrs Sharma died did not surprise Waikato Indian Cultural Society president Roy Vellara, who said the name Sharma was common in North India where most honour killings were performed.

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"It's very rare you would see such incidents in South India," he said.

Mr Vellara said people were burned alive as it was a way to get rid of any evidence and could be considered an accident.

Reasons for the killing were often due to dowry  the payment by a woman's family to her new husband  or adultery.

However, the fact she died in that way in New Zealand was a shock.

"They're (Indian immigrants) often well educated people from a high level society and have more value in society. They're usually well respected, so it's shocking really."

Cases of "honour killings" were more common in rural areas of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh than the Indian state's capital.

Television reporters went to Ms Sharma's previous flat in south Auckland, which the current tenants said was left in a mess. As well, people had visited the flat demanding money, and letters had arrived for Ranjeeta Sharma and also Ranjeeta Rekha, whose Facebook page lists her as working at Middlemore Hospital.

Neighbours said the couple were involved in a courier business but left suddenly, possibly because they owed rent.

Amnesty International said that if Ms Sharma's death was an honour killing, it would be the first in New Zealand, TV3 reported.

Mrs Sharma's death had rattled Huntly residents.

Dairy owner Asif Ahmed told the Waikato Times the case had frightened his customers. "Everybody's scared. Nothing like this would happen in town."

Anyone with information or has seen Mrs Sharma's vehicle is urged to contact the Operation Hangapipi inquiry team at the Huntly Police Station on 07 8287560.

Alternatively information can be left anonymously on the CrimeStoppers crime-line, 0800 555111.

- Waikato Times

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