CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Appeal fails for jeweller serving life term for murder of missing wife

Developer has been sentenced to 22 years in prison; his wife's body has never been found

14 January, 2020 — By Geoffrey Sawyer

Lihua Cao

A JEWELLER who has been told he must spend at least 22 years in prison for the murder of his wife has failed in an appeal to get the circumstances of his case looked at again.

Robert Ekaireb was jailed for life in January 2014 for killing Lihua Cao, who had gone missing seven years earlier. She has never been found but a murder investigation was launched after her family contacted police with concerns about her disappearance.

Mr Ekaireb, 45, a multi-millionaire who also made money as a successful developer owning dozens of properties in north London, had challenged the Criminal Case Review Commission’s refusal to send the case back to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that he has now been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, and would have been suffering without help during his questioning by police and at his trial.

Without Ms Cao’s body being located, Ms Ekaireb was convicted on “brick by brick” circumstantial evidence which included claims that he had pretended to be his wife through rogue text messages after she had vanished, accounts of the past tension which existed between the pair and his full deep clean and redecoration of the property they shared in Mount Vernon, one of Hampstead’s most des-res enclaves.

Carpets were relaid in what was described as a near identical colour, meaning the landlord had not realised they had been changed. He has always denied killing Ms Cao, who was 27 and pregnant at the time of her disappearance in 2006, and said he thought she had left to return to family members in China – although he never tried to trace her himself.

Mr Ekaireb’s refusal to say where her body could be led to a higher life ­sentence tariff; his appeal case made no reference to this as he maintains his innocence. The pair had met in Ireland while she was working in a lap-dancing club and he paid £275 for a private performance.

Robert Ekaireb

After they married, however, Mr Ekaireb was said to be obsessed with worry that she would return to sexual entertainment, hiring a private detective and booking lie detector tests to ensure she had not secretly returned to dancing. At one stage before her disappearance, police were called to investigate a possible assault but Ms Cao, also known as Lisa, withdrew the complaint. Mr Ekaireb has already failed to win a new trial in the Court of Appeal but asked the CCRC to look at the case again after his diagnosis. He has also suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

He would have been suffering from Asperger’s during his questioning and trial, his legal team argued at the High Court last year, affecting his possible “presentation” to a jury. The jury was told that he was “odd” rather than affected by a condition, it was claimed.

A new judgment from three judges, however, said they did not think this would have affected the outcome of his trial and that the CCRC had been fair in not sending the case back to the Court of Appeal. “It [The CCRC] accepted most of the new medical evidence – almost all – but came to a view on the effects of that evidence on the possible safety of the conviction different from that put forward on behalf of [Mr Ekaireb],” the judgment concluded. “Such disagreement does not make the CCRC’s view irrational or unlawful.”

The original trial judge, Nicholas Cooke QC, had told Mr Ekaireb during his sentencing: “Your successful destruction or disposal of the body is a very serious aggravating feature.” H went on to say: “The bereaved will have suffered agonies of false hope and you encouraged that state of affairs.”

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