The defence of Shrien Dewani, currently on £250 000 (R2.7 million) bail in Bristol over the murder of his wife Anni in Cape Town last month, will begin in earnest in the new year.
Orchestrated by celebrity publicist Max Clifford, Dewani will try to prove his innocence publicly before his extradition hearing on January 20.
Clifford, more accustomed to representing professional footballers, movie stars and pop musicians, will be backed by relatives and friends, who say they must stay anonymous on legal advice.
A “close relative” has been wheeled out to reveal Dewani, 30, is a broken man as he waits at home in the village of Westbury-on-Trym to hear his fate.
The “family member and true friend” said: “Shrien is torn apart by it all. The police case against him is flimsy. He has been robbed of the love of his life and is grieving, and now he must deal with all these ridiculous allegations.”
Ridiculous allegations? Plenty of them. Suggestions of an affair with a 39-year-old married work colleague in his debt-ridden care home company have been denied.
The appearance of a 1.9m German rent boy, who emerged from Munich to claim he had been paid £1 100 for three bouts of “kinky gay sex” by Dewani has been ridiculed.
The defence says he was at a gym and conducting a job interview when the former Bundeswehr soldier claimed contact with Shrien Dewani.
The suggestion that Anni, killed after her husband was released from their hijacking in Gugulethu on November 17, was crying on her honeymoon flight is also questioned.
Another “supporter” says: “The allegation Shrien paid to have his wife killed is made by men who have everything to win and nothing to lose from inventing a story.”
And if that isn’t enough, they also claim Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, and Xolile Mngeni, 23, who go on trial for the murder in February, have been “tortured by police” before signing confessions.
The motivation: to protect South Africa’s tourism industry, particularly in Cape Town, which is seen as safer than Joburg and other cities.
Then there is the shooting. While one of the medics first on the scene revealed there was no suggestion of sexual assault and the incident bore all the hallmarks of a hit, Shrien’s defenders say: “There is a ballistics report that says the gunshot wound was unorthodox. It doesn’t look like an execution wound. It suggests that the gun went off by accident in the panic of the attack when it looked like Anni was trying to fight them off.
“It’s horrible to think of it, but maybe they were planning a sexual assault and in the struggle the gun went off.”
Dewani’s legal team, who have seen the ballistics report, believe it is a major breakthrough.
They will also latch on to the South African Police chief’s description of Dewani as “a monkey” as proof their client will not enjoy a fair trial if he is extradited.
Did Shrien love Anni? Of course. He was “deeply in love” and video evidence of this is available. Dewani enjoying his first dance with Anni during the Hindu wedding ceremony in Mumbai. They can be seen mouthing Bollywood film lyrics to each other.
You can actually hear Anni singing: “I have chosen you, I have chosen you.” Shrien responds: “There is love in my heart. My first love, my first pride.” Moving stuff.
Finally we have a family friend, with a name. Mrs Baljeet Marwah assures us: “I was a guest at Shrien Dewani’s wedding. We all had a fantastic time and were blessed to witness such a joyous occasion.
“The Shrien that has and is being reported about is miles away from the one who was clearly in love on his wedding day.”
Another named friend, Hetal Kotecha, said: “Those close to Shrien know he is a broken, devastated widower who now has to deal with false and ridiculous accusations.”
His lawyer, Clare Montgomery, agrees. During his high court bail hearing earlier this month, she described the accusations against her client as “totally ludicrous”.
And says the same of any suggestions of a link between the Dewani case and that of Shanaaz Sewnarain, whose husband was jailed for life on December 23 for organising a “hit” with two men in a Durban hijack eerily reminiscent of Anni’s death.
His lawyers also rubbish suggestions Dewani might have played a part in the execution-style murder of Dr Pox Raghavjee in King William’s Town in 2007, a murder which remains unsolved.
After Anni’s death, Heather Raghavjee, Dr Pox’s widow, flew to Cape Town to comfort Dewani. One of Dr Raghavjee’s sons lives in Bristol. No link, say the Dewani crew.
Clifford himself has put a few feet wrong on the high-profile case. Initially, he told the Cape Times: “The last place in the world Shrien ever wants to go to again is Cape Town. But to help police… he’ll do so.”
As it turned out, only an extradition hearing will convince him to fly back to South Africa.
Clifford also said his client had been told he wasn’t a suspect in his wife’s death. That, too, proved premature.
But Clifford insists his client has been seeking medical help to deal with the grief. He said: “Shrien has been through so much trauma and shock, as you can imagine. He was madly in love with someone and very, very happy. That was destroyed in a minute. It turned into the worst nightmare.
“So many lies have come out of South Africa, but the family is getting used to it. This has obviously made a horrible nightmare even worse.”
But it might be worth pointing out many of the allegations are coming from England.
The Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily tabloid, led with the “German Master” gay sex angle at great length before the story was picked up and broadcast across the world. The Mirror went front page over the alleged affair with Michelle Jones, his human resources manager.
Clifford reveals his own family link to South Africa: “According to my sister, who lives there, it’s all predictable. This is the way the media does it in South Africa.”
Clifford’s counter-attack will be no-holds-barred. He represented Vanessa Perroncel, the underwear model caught up in an affair involving high-profile footballers John Terry and Wayne Bridge.
His links with the British media are legend. Close friends will say Anni and Shrien were “madly in love” and take it a step further, saying the couple’s physical attraction verged on the “sickening and embarrassing”.
Though they had arguments “like any other couple” they planned a civil ceremony on Anni’s birthday in March – the Hindu ceremony is not recognised as a true marriage under English law.
They claim, too, that Shrien did not “flee justice” but has gone through the Foreign Office in an attempt to put his story to South African detectives investigating the case.
Over to another “close relative” speaking on condition of anonymity: “Because of the legal constraints of the case, we have been unable to challenge some of the reporting, which has been totally inaccurate. We have decided to speak out despite advice from our lawyers.”
The full details of their whirlwind romance will also be made available. Their first date? Going to see The Lion King at a West End theatre in 2009.
Arranged marriage? No. Dewani, who had been engaged to the daughter of a rich Asian businessman before, simply fell in love with Swedish-born Anni. They shared a mutual enjoyment of ten-pin bowling. Then came weekends together in Bristol and Stockholm.
The family claim: “About a year after they met, they just decided that it was getting serious and they would talk to both sets of parents. Shrien then flew to Stockholm to talk to Anni's parents.”
A £25 000 diamond engagement ring was handed over in Paris, complete with a red rose, at the Ritz.
Even her father Vinod Hindocha recalls that, though he has been seen as less than supportive by the defence team.
So why go to South Africa on honeymoon? A country where Dewani has friends and contacts? Ah, that’s because neither of them had ever been there. And the letters SA matched their initials. Sweet.
The defenders shrug off the call from Dewani, claiming to be a travel consultant to ease the cost of visiting the Kruger Park at the start of their honeymoon.
Yes, he lied, they say, but that doesn’t make him a murderer. They then stayed at the luxurious Cape Grace hotel on the V&A waterfront. Not cheap.
Then came the chat with Zola Robert Tongo, the man jailed for 18 years over his part in organising the murder. Tongo claims Shrien chatted to him about the “hit” within 25 minutes of them meeting. With Anni in the car alongside them.
Though Tongo claims Dewani said he had organised an earlier assassination in South Africa, the “relative” says: “Utterly ridiculous. What I find amazing is that Shrien was supposedly able to find someone who could carry out a murder so quickly on interest-free credit. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. He was allegedly prepared to do it without the money being paid up front and with little information about the victim and at such short notice.”
Dewani’s family claim his post-hijacking reaction was hardly that of a guilty man. They say: “He called us in a hysterical state asking for help. Shrien was in a panic at his hotel because the police station he was first taken to could not get an international line and he was desperate for someone to access his BlackBerry records where he had stored the number of the taxi driver.
“His BlackBerry had been stolen during the hijack and he was desperate to get the police to act to find Anni as quickly as possible.
“He hoped the BlackBerry might be used and could be traced to find his wife. He was distraught and panicked, and it was clearly genuine.”
It has emerged the family then contacted a South African private investigator, David Miller of Sleuth Detectives. They point to this as clear evidence of Dewani’s innocence. - Sunday Tribune