Honeymoon murder: Questions the groom must face
A night-time taxi ride leaves a bride slain. Did her husband arrange her death? Is he linked to an earlier killing? Or is he being framed by man trying to save his own neck?
Tragic victim or the callous orchestrator of the brutal slaying of his new bride? Shrien Dewani's all too brief married life has shocked and polarised opinion. As the 30-year-old businessman continues to undergo trauma and bereavement counselling at his home near Bristol this weekend, he must also begin, together with his lawyers, to prepare to defend himself against allegations that he conspired to murder his wife of two weeks, Anni.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
They are allegations that Mr Dewani have denied and that his legal team have dismissed as "absurd", but which could yet see him extradited to South Africa to face trial. The saga began when he and Swedish-born Anni, 28, were carjacked by two men as the couple drove through Cape Town's Gugulethu township last month, in a taxi tour of the "real South Africa".
Mr Dewani said he was robbed; then the carjackers forced him and his driver from the vehicle and drove off with his wife still inside. Her fate was unknown until the taxi was found abandoned in a neighbouring township several hours later with her body on the rear seat. She had been shot through the neck.
At first glance it looked like another of the bleak crimes that plague the rainbow nation. While the murder rate has dropped in the past decade, South Africa continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the world. This new addition to the statistics was particularly embarrassing, as it involved a tourist, and the country is sensitive to anything which might jeopardise the vital income visitors generate.
Hence it was with relief, if not glee, that investigators strongly suggested that, far from being further evidence of South Africa's blighted society, Mr Dewani, a foreigner, was allegedly involved. From that point onwards, his blameless life, already turned upside down by the loss of his wife, has been under scrutiny.
The attacks on his reputation increased further yesterday when South Africa's national police commissioner, General Bheki Cele, confirmed detectives are investigating a link between the 2007 murder of an Eastern Cape doctor, Pox Raghavjee, and Anni Dewani's death. This followed newspaper reports that the two murders might be linked. It was reported that Dr Raghavjee's widow, Heather, allegedly knew Shrien Dewani and drove to Cape Town to comfort him after the death of his wife.
The publicist Max Clifford, who acts for the Dewani family, dismissed the claims. "It's a great story but it's a total fabrication. How flimsy and ridiculous this whole thing is. If it wasn't so tragic it would be a farce, a comedy." He said the doctor's widow, Heather Raghavjee, had travelled to Cape Town to console Dewani after the murder. He said they had never previously met and Mrs Raghavjee had made the journey at the request of her daughter-in-law, who lives in the Bristol area and knows the Dewani family.
The latest development appears to originate from Zola Tongo, the taxi driver, whom Mr Dewani is said to have paid to organise the murder of his wife. Tongo was sentenced to 18 years in jail last week, after confessing to conspiracy to murder. He claimed Mr Dewani approached him to hire two hitmen to stage the carjacking and kill his wife in return, in exchange for 15,000 rand (£1,400).
Tongo is the South African state prosecutors' star witness in their case against Mr Dewani. His sensational confession saw him turn state witness in return for an effective 18-year sentence instead of life. His evidence is central to the attempt to extradite Mr Dewani back to Cape Town.
The High Court in London last week heard further evidence that supports Tongo's allegations. Two shop assistants from a currency exchange alleged that Mr Dewani exchanged $1,500 into rand – to pay Xolile Mnguni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, the men accused of carrying out the hit. He also drew £1,000 from cash machines, giving him both "dirty" and "clean" streams of income, the High Court was told. There is also evidence from hotel CCTV, which is said to show Mr Dewani meeting and talking – "in conspiracy" – with Tongo before and after the murder.
This evidence emerged as lawyers for the South African prosecutors opposed bail for Mr Dewani. "The net is closing in, and while he may have been prepared to hand himself in before, he may well have strong reasons why he would not now," lawyer Ben Watson told the court.
It was the first occasion some of the evidence against him could be questioned, and Clare Montgomery, QC, for Mr Dewani, did not waste the opportunity. There was "nothing" in the fresh material that strengthened the case against him or made it more likely he would flee she stated. His wife could have died if the gun went off accidentally, and did not appear to have an "execution-style wound", she said. "It's a wound that travels through Anni's hand and into her neck, and it is because it severed arteries that it proved fatal." As to the suggestion that there was no sexual assault, there was a clear grip mark on her lower leg, she said. Any cash Mr Dewani paid to Tongo was for services as a driver and guide.
She concluded: "There is nothing to undermine what we say are the frankly absurd aspects of the case advanced. Your lordship may regard it as at least improbable, even for an experienced criminal, to arrive at a foreign airport, to pick up a taxi driver of a different race and nationality and decide within an hour or so of making his acquaintance to recruit him into a plan to murder his wife. That would be unlikely for an experienced criminal, let alone for a grammar school boy who had never been in South Africa before, with no history of crime in any way, particularly when the supposed identity of the person he wants to kill is his newly wedded wife."
Ms Montgomery called her client a "man with every hope of clearing his name of these allegations''. He had no desire to flee, but wanted to deal with the accusations. Mr Justice Ouseley agreed, saying Mr Dewani "had a genuine and realistic interest in making sure he clears his name".
Mr Dewani may have cleared the first barrier in his efforts to clear his name, but must now face the extradition hearing and, failing that, a murder trial. Serious questions have been raised about the efficacy of the South African police force. It still has much to do to improve its more conventional crime prevention and detection skills. It is in part because of those failures that South Africa's prosecutors have been forced to rely more heavily than their British counterparts on confession evidence. It is also hamstrung by corruption.
Some Indians fear that there are sinister motives behind the police investigation into Mr Dewani. In the polluted hierarchy of apartheid South Africa, Indians experienced "privileges" and rights below that of whites and above that of blacks. Racial stereotyping abounds. General Bheki Cele has already provoked controversy by calling Mr Dewani a "monkey".
In the meantime, those who knew the certain victim in this case – Anni Dewani – continue to suffer. Her sister, Ami Denborg, summed up her family's predicament when she said: "I do not know what to believe. It is really difficult for the family to hear this, for everyone in this situation, and all we want is the truth. Shrien was such a nice guy and it's just hard to believe."
The anomalies of the Anni Dewani case
Visits to South Africa
Shrien Dewani reportedly arrived with his wife Anni for their honeymoon in South Africa on the evening of 12 November, but other unconfirmed reports claim he arrived on 6 November. Mr Dewani's legal team claims that the 12 November visit was the first time he had ever visited the country.
Investigators have so far failed to ascribe a motive to Mr Dewani's alleged actions. Initial reports suggested that he might have benefited from a sizeable will, but this has been vehemently denied. It has also been suggested that Mr Dewani had faced pressure to abide by an "arranged marriage", once again denied by his family. It has also been suggested that he is a homosexual, something he has denied himself, saying that he and his wife had discussed starting a family shortly before she was murdered.
Investigators say they are suspicious that neither Mr Dewani nor the taxi driver was hurt during the carjacking. It is claimed he was dumped through the back of the passenger window as the car was moving. In a subsequent account he was said to have been dragged from the taxi after the robbers stopped it. Investigators are also suspicious why the couple went to a dangerous township at night. Reports the couple wanted to visit a restaurant recommended by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver were countered by evidence that the restaurant was closed.
South African prosecutors say hotel CCTV showed Mr Dewani handing over a "white envelope" to Zola Tongo, the taxi driver jailed for brokering the murder, and said to contain money to pay for the execution of his wife. Clare Montgomery QC, for Mr Dewani, insisted the transaction was payment for Tongo's services as a driver and guide. Tongo has also reportedly claimed that Mr Dewani sent him a text message stating that payment for the murder was "in an envelope in a pouch behind the taxi passenger seat".