British tourist Shrien Dewani is now a suspect in the police investigation of the murder of his Swedish wife, Anni Dewani, in Cape Town, two highly reliable sources close to the investigation have told the Mail & Guardian.
Negotiations are taking place to persuade Dewani to return voluntarily. If he returns, he will be charged and arrested, the source said. If he doesn’t, the National Prosecuting Authority will have to extradite him from Britain.
The 30-year-old chartered accountant flew out of Cape Town four days after his wife’s body was found in Khayelitsha with a single bullet wound to the head.
The couple had just arrived on honeymoon when Dewani claimed their taxi was hijacked by two armed men after they took a late-night detour through Gugulethu two weeks ago.
The focus of the investigation shifted back to Dewani after three men were swiftly arrested by police and charged with the murder of the 28-year-old engineer and part-time model.
The taxi driver, 31-year-old Zola Tongo, who drove the newlyweds on the night of the murder, is currently negotiating a plea bargain with the state. The other two accused, 23-year-old Xolile Mngeni and 26-year-old Mzwamadoda Qwabe, have also given police their version of events.
This week Dewani appointed top South African divorce and criminal lawyer Billy Gundelfinger to keep a “watching brief”. Asked whether he knew his client was a suspect in the murder investigation, Gundelfinger declined to comment.
In Britain Dewani also appointed public relations guru Max Clifford, who has created a media frenzy around his client. The British Daily Mail reported family sources this week saying that Dewani believed the South African police wanted to pin the murder of his wife on him.
The M&G sent questions to Clifford’s office this week asking for Dewani’s response to the unsubstantiated allegations that he might have been involved in his wife’s murder. Clifford’s office then issued a press statement written by his brother and business partner, Preyen Dewani, Both families wanted to see justice done, his brother wrote, and it was a difficult time for everyone.
“At this stage Shrien has not been asked to go back to South Africa. As you can imagine, he has been severely traumatised by the country and the specific threats that he too may be a target in the South African press.
“He is currently receiving medical assistance to help deal with the trauma. The family are in constant contact with the police and are fully cooperating with their investigation.”
Shrien had to deal with the loss of his chosen life partner on their honeymoon, his brother wrote, and the horrific ordeal of being held up and terrorised at gunpoint.
“He is fully aware of the false accusations and the possibility that by attaching blame to him the people may divert this matter away from concern over the security of South Africa,” wrote Preyen.
His brother said the couple had planned their future together and had so much to look forward to.
Meanwhile, the expected identity parade of the three men who have already appeared in court in connection with the murder did not take place this week.
Although he remained tight-lipped, journalists mobbed Rodney De Kock, the Western Cape director of public prosecutions, after the second appearance of Mngeni in court on Thursday. Topping their questions was how long it would take to extradite a person from Britain.
Unresolved questions about the murder of Anni Dewani have multiplied in the past two weeks:
- Rape has been ruled out as a motive for the murder. At a press conference last week, police commissioner Bheki Cele said Anni had not been raped and the M&G has learned from forensic sources that the postmortem established the same. This raises questions about why the gunmen separated Anni and Shrien.
- The goods stolen by the three men who have appeared in court comprised only a Giorgio Armani lady’s wristwatch, a gold and diamond bracelet, a lady’s handbag and a Blackberry cellphone.
- Legal sources are baffled as to why Dewani hired a public relations expert when the men accused of murdering his wife have already been arrested. “If I was him, I would be hotfooting it over on a plane to identify them,” said a legal source. “Why is he not here already? This will hold up all the legal proceedings and weaken the state’s case.”
- The British tabloid, the Sun, has alleged that the family firm, PSP Healthcare, is about R70-million in debt. Interviewed by the Sun, Shrien Dewani reportedly broke down and sobbed while talking about the “slurs” speculating he might have been involved in his wife’s killing. “How could anyone say I killed her?” he asked.
- Taxi driver Zola Tongo is not among the preferred companies supplied by the Cape Grace Hotel, where the couple stayed. In different media interviews Dewani has given different accounts of how the couple arranged this transport.
Clifford known to resort to extreme measures
In his long career, public relations guru Max Clifford has sometimes been accused of spinning incredible yarns to keep his clients in the headlines.
Most remember him for the story that appeared in the British tabloid, the Sun, under the unbelievable headline: “Freddie Starr ate my hamster”.
Now one of the most famous tabloid pieces of all time, the story was apparently invented by Clifford.
Comedian Starr was said to have been staying with friends when he returned home feeling peckish after a concert. The Sun reported he put his friend’s pet hamster, Supersonic, between two slices of bread and proceeded to eat it. Starr now admits in interviews that this story was untrue — but it brought him much-needed publicity for his forthcoming tour.
Clifford boasts on his website that he has “protected and promoted” his clients for 40 years.
Television star and Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell says he can’t do without him, while Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty sought his help when she wanted compensation for the racist bullying she suffered after appearing on the British Big Brother show.