Dewani ‘needed a way out of’ marriage, court told

British businessman Shrien Dewani arranged his wife’s honeymoon murder after confessing he needed to “find a way out of” his marriage, a London court heard on Tuesday.

The Press Association in the United Kingdom reported that an unnamed witness was prepared to give evidence to this effect if Dewani stood trial.

This witness claimed Dewani revealed to him his true feelings about his marriage more than six months earlier, the Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court in south-east London heard.

South African authorities are seeking to extradite Dewani over the killing of his Swedish bride, Anni, who was shot dead in the back of a taxi in Cape Town in November last year.

Hugo Keith QC, representing the South African authorities, told the court on Tuesday: “Dewani told [the witness] in April 2010 how he was engaged and had to get married.

“He said although she was a nice, lovely girl who he liked, he could not break out of the engagement because he would be disowned by his family. He went on to say to the witness he needed to find a way out of it.”

Dewani (31) is accused of arranging for Anni (28) to be killed in a staged car-jacking in Gugulethu township.

He is also wanted for offences of kidnapping, robbery with aggravated circumstances, conspiracy to commit murder, and obstructing the administration of justice, the court heard on the first day of Dewani’s extradition hearing.

As Keith opened his case, Dewani, dressed in a dark tracksuit top, sat slumped in the dock, mumbling to himself with his eyes half-closed.

The packed court heard Dewani became a suspect in the killing after cabbie Zola Tongo pointed the finger at him.

Tongo, who had been appointed the couple’s tour guide when they arrived in Cape Town on November 12, admitted his own involvement in the hijacking and claimed Dewani offered him cash to arrange it, Keith said.

Outlining the sequence of events, he said the newlyweds touched down in the city after spending the first three days of their honeymoon at the Kruger National Park.

Tongo drove the couple to the Cape Grace hotel where they were staying. He claims Dewani then asked him if he knew anyone who could “have a client of his taken off the scene”.

“After some discussion, Tongo understood that Dewani wanted to have a woman killed,” Keith said. “Dewani indicated he would be prepared to pay R15 000.”

The taxi driver alleged the Bristol businessman offered to pay for the contract killing in US dollars and the next day he took Tongo to a place where he could change the currency into South African rands.

“During their discussions it was agreed the killing would be designed to look like a random hijacking, that Tongo and Dewani would be ejected from the car unharmed,” Keith said. “The kidnap and robbery were designed to make it look like a random attack.”

In his plea agreement, Tongo explained he had discussed Dewani’s proposal with a friend of his, hotel receptionist Monde Mbolombo.

Mbolombo could probably find someone suitable to carry out the killing, he thought, and he was put in touch with a man called Mziwamadoda Qwabe, the court was told.

Plan hatched
A plan was hatched and a third man, Xolile Mngeni, was brought on board, according to Tongo’s account. It was agreed that Tongo would drive the couple to the township, where the other two would be waiting to hijack his vehicle, Keith said.

As arranged, the cabbie collected the couple from their hotel on the evening of November 13 and took them to see some sights before ending up in Gugulethu, he said.

When they got there, Mngeni and Qwabe were nowhere to be seen.

So Tongo drove the honeymooners on to a restaurant, where they dined, and then chauffeured them back to the township afterwards, the court was told.

“Before they went in [to the restaurant], Dewani took Tongo aside and asked him what had happened because the plan had been that the car-jacking would take place on the way to the restaurant,” Keith said, citing Tongo’s evidence.

“Dewani emphasised he wanted it done that night. Tongo explained that [the hijackers] had just missed him.”

But Tongo reassured Dewani that “all was in place for the return journey”, Keith added. And this time the alleged plan was executed, the court was told, with Mngeni and Qwabe stopping the cab, pulling out their firearms and getting into the car.

The Dewanis were ordered to lie down on the back seat. After a short distance Tongo and then Dewani were ejected, the court heard.

“Qwabe drove on and the victim was shot dead, as was agreed,” Keith said.

Tongo’s vehicle was later found abandoned, Keith told the court.

“Inside, on the back seat, was the body of the victim, Anni,” he said. “A single bullet was found embedded in the back seat of the vehicle.”

Gunshot wound
A post-mortem examination revealed she died of a single gunshot wound to the neck, with no signs of sexual assault.

A murder investigation was launched and detectives grew wary, the court heard.

“Police were puzzled and suspicious of the account given by Tongo and Dewani,” Keith said.

He said questions were raised over why the Dewanis had not used a designated hotel taxi instead of enlisting Tongo’s services; why neither Tongo nor Dewani was harmed in the incident; why the couple chose to visit Gugulethu, an area known to be unsafe; and why they returned to it, having already visited it once before dinner.

Nevertheless, Dewani left South Africa on November 16 — four days before Tongo agreed to hand himself in.

Police were satisfied the evidence the cabbie gave in his plea agreement was “consistent with the evidence at their disposal”, Keith said.

This, he said, included:

  • CCTV footage showing Dewani chatting to Tongo for 13 minutes shortly after his arrival at the Cape Grace hotel;
  • Evidence that Dewani did exchange the US dollars for South African rands;
  • CCTV footage from the hotel three days after the murder showing Tongo apparently receiving a white plastic packet from Dewani — supporting Tongo’s claim that he was paid for the hit that day.

— Sapa

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