Thursday, December 16, 2010

‘Dewanis weren’t married’

London - Walking arm in arm by the warm Indian Ocean that Saturday evening, the “honeymoon” couple might have felt they made the perfect choice when they came to South Africa for this most romantic of holidays.

Yet, just a few hours later, Anni Hindocha would be dead, executed with a bullet to the back of her head, while the man she loved was left to make sense of a murder that has become the subject of intense speculation across the globe.

The controversy has involved the couple’s relatives and friends from four countries – Britain, South Africa, Sweden and India – as well as, bizarrely, PR man Max Clifford.

At the centre of this tragedy is Anni, 28, whose body was flown to Britain and cremated.

Her father, Vinod Hindocha, has described how he fought back his emotions when he saw his daughter lying in her coffin: ‘My girl was so pretty. She looked calmly asleep and in peace. There was not a scratch visible on her face. I was so relieved about that.’

As for the man described as Anni’s husband, Shrien Dewani, 30, he is reportedly under sedation at his West Country home.

A wealthy businessman from Bristol who runs a series of care homes, he is receiving counselling after bringing Anni’s body back to Britain.

He is also in constant touch with Clifford, whom he has hired for advice, but last week was refusing all media requests for an interview.

Inexplicably, Shrien, an accountant by training, has not been called back to South Africa by police to attend an identity parade of three men who have been charged with kidnap, robbery and murder.

Even as Shrien keeps his counsel, though, the list of nagging inconsistencies surrounding Anni’s death grows.

Not least among them is the fact that the lavish £200 000 “marriage” they went through in Mumbai in November in front of 300 guests was never officially registered there, or indeed anywhere else in the world.

In other words, the honeymooners were never honeymooners at all.

The Mumbai “wedding” ceremony, apparently so carefully planned by Shrien, is not recognised as a formal marriage in law.

The Daily Mail has confirmed with the British High Commission in Delhi that the union was never registered in India, and therefore would not have been recognised in either Britain or Sweden.

From his home in Sweden, Anni’s father confirmed: “My wife and I are Anni’s closest relatives – not Shrien. She was not formally married to Shrien.

“According to the authorities (in Britain and Sweden), Anni was still Miss Hindocha when she died.

“The marriage registration was not going to happen until March next year, when Anni had her birthday in Britain and they switched rings, which is our custom.”

Then there is the intriguing letter, sent last week to the Mail from people claiming to be Anni’s friends, which asks troubling questions about Anni’s late-night abduction in Gugulethu.

The letter, signed by “the devoted friends and acquaintances of our beloved Anni”, says she knew Nigeria and Kenya well, contradicting Shrien’s suggestion that she had never been to Africa before.

“It is beyond comprehension that Anni suggested seeing ‘the real Africa’ in such a dangerous area at such a late hour,’ says the letter. “She was an intelligent and smart girl.”

The letter adds: “We believe the South African investigation may be a whitewash, and Anni’s demise is highly mysterious.”


So, what really happened to Anni, the girl who looked so happy in her “wedding” photos a few weeks earlier?

Having studied as an engineer in Sweden, where she grew up, she met Shrien in September last year after travelling to the UK to visit relatives.

It has emerged that, at the time, Shrien had just abruptly cancelled plans for a wedding to Rani Kansagra, the daughter of the London-based multi-millionaire founder of Indian budget airline SpiceJet.

Shrien says he fell for Anni at first sight, and within weeks he had proposed to her.

In February of this year, Anni left her job at the Swedish cellphone giant Ericsson in Stockholm, and was preparing to move to Bristol to help organise their ceremony in Mumbai, where both had relatives.

A friend of Shrien says: “It was a lavish event at an expensive hotel which has lawns running down to a lake. Guests flew in from London with Shrien and Anni. Everyone believed they were a couple made for each other.”

On the flight back home to London, it appears the couple were not on speaking terms.

A woman claiming to be an air hostess on the flight has said that Anni looked unhappy and was in tears.

“One of my colleagues brought her some tissues,” she recalls. “The couple did not speak one word to each other during the nine-hour flight.”

This account was posted on a website and written under the hostess’s first name.

True or not, a few days later, Anni and Shrien flew off again, this time on honeymoon to South Africa.

They first went to the Kruger National Park, before going on to the Cape Grace hotel in Cape Town.

It had been booked by Shrien’s secretary in London, who, according to him, had also arranged for a taxi driver in a silver VW Sharan people-carrier to pick them up from the airport on Friday, November 12. The driver was Zola Tongo.


At the end of the journey from the airport to the hotel, Shrien took Tongo’s cellphone number and promised to call him if he and Anni wanted to take a trip.

The next day

Shrien asked Tongo to collect them at 7.30pm to take them on a sightseeing tour of Cape Town.


The couple was driven around the city, and what happened next is unclear. Shrien says that he asked Tongo to drive to Somerset West. It was already 8.30pm.

Shrien had booked a table at 96 Winery Road, but when the couple arrived, he says they thought it was too formal.

So they decided to head for the more informal Surfside Restaurant, in the Strand. The couple asked Tongo to wait while they took a walk by the sea. By 9.30, they were eating sushi and curry.

Soon after ten, Shrien and Anni set off back to the Cape Grace hotel.

Details of exactly what followed have varied. What is known is that the vehicle was driven to Gugulethu, where it was attacked; Shrien was put out of it, and the hijackers drove off with Anni, who was subsequently found murdered.

So, what will happen next in this most intriguing and tragic of cases?

The Mail and Guardian recently reported that Shrien “will be arrested and charged” in connection with Anni’s murder if he returns to the country, a suggestion rejected by Max Clifford.

If correct, this would be an extraordinary course for the investigation to take.

In the meantime, Tongowill return to court this week to face charges over her death, along with two men from Khayelitsha.

Those two are claiming they were tortured by police into making a confession that they killed Anni.

Meanwhile, back in Bristol, Shrien – who says there was no insurance policy covering Anni’s life, so he does not stand to make a penny from her death – remains silent, grieving for the woman he loved, and awaiting instruction from Clifford. – Daily Mail