Slain taxi driver's family fights for the Kiwi dream

Falguni Mohini shares a special bond with her daughters Yashvi, 10, left, and Hetvi, 8.
Lawrence Smith / Fairfax Media

Falguni Mohini shares a special bond with her daughters Yashvi, 10, left, and Hetvi, 8.

In the early hours of January 31st 2010, Auckland taxi driver Hiren Mohini picked up a seemingly innocuous fare outside the SkyCity casino.

It would be his last.

Falguni Mohini and her grieving family at the funeral of slain taxi driver Hiren Mohini.
Grahame Cox Sunday News Photogra

Falguni Mohini and her grieving family at the funeral of slain taxi driver Hiren Mohini.

Just eight minutes later, Mohini lay dying of stab wounds, mortally wounded by Chinese kitchen-hand Xiao Zhen.

Five years later, Mohini's widow Falguni is fighting on, determined to realise her husband's Kiwi dream. "We will stay in New Zealand," she says, "because Hiren wanted us to live here, it was his wish."

The couple arrived in New Zealand from Mumbai in 2003, full of hope for their new life. Mohini was an accountant, his wife a quality-control chemist. "We came here for better prospects and better living standards, and then an unknown person from a different country suddenly.….that's the thing that is still in my mind," Falguni Mohini says.

Taxi driver Hiren Mohini and his family,  from left Falguni, Yashvi, Hiren, Hetvi and Vasantiben.
Supplied

Taxi driver Hiren Mohini and his family, from left Falguni, Yashvi, Hiren, Hetvi and Vasantiben.

Hiren Mohini wanted to own his own family home. It was why he was out driving a taxi at all hours, picking up the sober, the drunk, the dangerous. "His dream was to buy a house for us, so to fulfil his wish I bought a house within a year after his death," Falguni says.

Their Mount Roskill home is now full of life, laughter and cheek, courtesy of the couple's children, Yashvi,10, and Hetvi, 8.

Adorned with flowers, Mohini's photograph looks down on his family from the living-room wall. "Every year on January 31 we have prayers for him at home as well as the place where it happened, on View Rd," says his widow.

A long line of taxis follows a hearse carrying the body of Hiren Mohini after his funeral in 2010.
Grahame Cox / Fairfax Media

A long line of taxis follows a hearse carrying the body of Hiren Mohini after his funeral in 2010.

Life has changed substantially. She has changed career, taking a new job as a teacher aide at New Windsor School, giving her constant contact with Yashvi and Hetvi. "The school has been very good to me,  they have given me an opportunity to spend time with them. It's very nice to be with them. The girls are happy about it, if they see me, they come and hug me."

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She has had to learn to drive, because "he used to drive us everywhere, wherever I wanted to go he used to take me there, and his daughters and Mum."

And she's consumed with worry about her daughters. Recently, Hetvi fell into the water at Hunua Falls, south of Auckland. She was plucked to safety by a family friend, but her mother says: "I was very upset, from then I just want to be with them all the time, I never allow them to go by themselves. And if they go out I ring them up constantly, where are you, how are you?"

It's days since a 14-year-old boy was found guilty of manslaughter and a 13-year-old acquitted over the stabbing of Henderson dairy owner Arun Kumar last June. It's a case Falguni Mohini was aware of, but didn't feel strong enough to follow closely. "When these things happen I have to keep myself away from it because I feel the same feelings again. What can I say?"

The moment her life changed irrevocably came when members of the local Indian community knocked on her front door. "Initially, they told me and mum that Hiren was in the hospital, that he had met with an accident. Later on, they all came together and then finally they told that he was no longer. It was in the morning, somewhere around 4.30-5am."

The killer Xiao fled the scene of the crime in Mt Eden, but he left behind crucial evidence that would eventually convict him thousands of kilometres away.

When police arrived to inspect Mohini's crashed taxi, they discovered a blood-covered knife, snapped into several pieces, inside the taxi.

The knife's grey and black plastic handle was lying on the floor of the car in the back, and the bloodstained blade was found in the front. No useable fingerprints could be taken from the handle, but DNA left on the weapon would later be linked to Xiao.

The kitchen hand spent the day after the murder playing video games, but after seeing publicity about the case, decided to flee to China.

On February 5, he caught a direct flight to Shanghai, but Auckland police were already on his trail.

Two weeks later, police searched the basic apartment Xiao had shared on Queen St.

In the bathroom, they found two green toothbrushes he had left behind.

Both were seized for DNA testing - the results which would later link him to the murder weapon, along with a palm and thumb print from his airport departure card.

In June 2010, Shanghai police found Xiao.

No extradition treaty exists between New Zealand and China, but in a legal first it was agreed that Zhen would stand trial in China, after Auckland police were given a written assurances that the death penalty would not apply.

Two months later, Xiao stood trial in a Shanghai court.

He told the court he had argued with Mohini about Asian people working in New Zealand and had refused to pay the $15 fare. Xiao agreed with some elements of the case, though this did not amount to a not guilty plea. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.                                                   

Detective Inspector Hywel Jones was in charge of the case, and travelled to China for Xiao's trial.

Xiao Zhen was last visited by a New Zealand police representative in China in October 2013, he says.

"It was part of an official visit to Wujiao prison [in Shanghai] where Xiao is serving his sentence. He remains in prison there."

Falguni Mohini says she also occasionally checks on Xiao's whereabouts through police.

She feels "nothing" for him - instead her attention is focused on Yashvi and Hetvi, on that Kiwi dream.

"It's my wish and my hope that they have a good academic career, I will try to give them the best education."

The unspeakable tragedy has seen the family form a close bond.             

At the time of Hiren's murder Yashvi and Hetvi were just five and three.

Inevitably they have asked questions about their dad, and how he died.

"My younger one was very close to Hiren and now she is very close to me. Now they know details, whatever they ask me I just reply, and they have seen coverage online as well."

CAMERAS IN CARS

The murder of Hiren Mohini and of Christchurch cabbie Abdulrahman Ikhtiari led directly to a law change introducing cameras and panic buttons in taxis.

Since August 2011 taxis in major towns and cities have required interior security cameras and communications systems after an outcry over cab drivers' safety after the death of Mohini and Ikhtiari, 39, an Afghani refugee and a father of five, who was murdered by Shannon Boyes-Warren in December 2008.

A 2013 report by Opus found there had been a 40 per cent decrease in serious assaults since the introduction of cameras. The report talks of the "position of trust" created when a passenger gets into a cab. "They are alone in the taxi together, potentially at lonely times and places. The passenger may be affected adversely by drugs or alcohol, as taxis are often the preferred mode of those who are unfit to drive owing to the substances they have ingested."

"The driver trusts the passenger to behave reasonably and to pay the fare. Passengers trust the driver to behave reasonably and take them expeditiously to their destination."

New Zealand Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale says the cameras are working well for both drivers and passengers: "Drivers love them." Heale says the evidence produced by cameras means convictions are "faster and cheaper." Confronted with photographic evidence, people accused of taxi crimes will often plead guilty, he says.

But the advent of the alternative taxi service Uber, which uses private cars, has prompted fresh debate over the use of cameras. Uber spokeswoman Katie Curran says cameras were lobbied for by taxi companies "because of the specific safety issues that taxi drivers face when picking anonymous people up off the street. Uber makes these issues redundant through our technology. On Uber, no rider or driver is anonymous, every person riding is known to the company and Uber drivers do not do anonymous, streethail work."

Uber's feedback system allows it to monitor driver and rider quality to ensure standards are kept high, she says. "The Taxi Federation's comments are based on their own model of taxis providing anonymous rides which is fundamentally different to the Uber platform and model."

But Heale says the Uber app offers no protection against violence, and little of evidential value.

"Cameras give you a lot more than you can get on a cell phone. Some good has some out of this [the drivers' tragic deaths] and we're opposed to this being retracted for removed," he says. "Uber don't want professional drivers, they want the mums and dads, the yous and mes. An uber driver is not going to spend $2000 to install a camera."

The issue will get an airing during a Government review into small passenger services - vehicles designed to carry 12 or fewer people for hire or reward - which is currently underway.

 - Sunday Star Times

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