Dewani trial postponed over chickenpox

By Drum Digital
14 October 2014

The murder trial of British businessman Shrien Dewani has been postponed until next week because one of the prosecutors has chickenpox.

Prosecutor Adrian Mopp has been calling his witnesses to the stand in the Western Cape High Court for the last two days without the assistance of his colleague Shareen Riley.

He had a rough time on Tuesday when his one witness's testimony was ruled irrelevant and another was made to look inept by the defence.

Mopp subsequently spoke to deputy Judge President Jeannette Traverso in chambers on Tuesday afternoon and she postponed the trial until Monday.

Dewani is accused of masterminding the murder of his wife Anni during their honeymoon in Cape Town on November 13, 2010 and offering local men R15,000 to carry out the hit.

Xolile Mngeni is serving life in jail for pulling the trigger, while Mziwamadoda Qwabe is serving a 25-year jail term, and shuttle taxi driver Zola Tongo 18 years.

Dewani has pleaded not guilty to the five counts against him, maintaining that the couple were the victims of a hijacking.

The State's fourth witness, English cybercrime unit official Mark Roberts, was called on Tuesday to testify on e-mail communications between Dewani and an undisclosed man between June and August 2009. He retrieved the e-mails from a copy of the hard drive on Anni's laptop.

Francois van Zyl, for Dewani, objected to their relevance.

Mopp said the e-mails showed Dewani was conflicted about whether to get married or whether to reveal his sexuality publicly.

The e-mails provided a context for other evidence that would be led.

Van Zyl countered that the e-mails provided graphic details about sexual preferences, what the men wished to do to each other and just two or three references to the conflict Mopp referred to.

"They clearly had a discussion on whether to come out. His advice from his friend is that commitment to marriage is a very serious commitment and he must think seriously about it," the lawyer said.

Traverso questioned the relevance of his sexuality and shortly thereafter, ruled that the e-mails were inadmissable as evidence because they were not relevant.

The State's fifth witness, Warrant Officer George Stefanus, was called next and he testified about taking a witness statement from Dewani at the Cape Grace Hotel shortly after the hijacking.

He said Dewani was emotional at the time but they were able to speak to each other in English and he wrote down the gist of what had happened to him and his wife, using Dewani's words.

He did not formally swear him in before taking the statement but believed reading the oath out to him and getting him to initial every page and sign at the end had been sufficient.

During cross-examination, Van Zyl accused him of not following procedure and having a poor memory.

It emerged that he did not depose to an affidavit to describe how he had taken Dewani's statement and had lost his copy book or pocket book with notes he had taken down.

Van Zyl asked him why he did not formally swear his client in.

"Mr Dewani was emotional and me coming with 'so help me God'; And where is God in that time?" Stefanus replied, making the public gallery and some members of the media snigger.

He got Stefanus to concede that he may be have been incorrect about how long he and Dewani spoke and what time the statement was made.

However, Stefanus also stuck to his guns about writing down exactly what Dewani told him despite the defence's claims that he had certain details wrong and that the chronology of events in the statement was incorrect.

The last witness for the day was Golden Touch currency exchange store owner Maria Bravetti, who received a visit from Dewani and Tongo mid-morning on November 13, 2010 to perform a transaction.

She insisted that Dewani gave her US1500 and she exchanged it for R10,200. She did not keep a record of the transaction.

She first asked her assistant Thelma to take the dollars to another dealer to be sold and she returned with rands.

Bravetti said she was doing this as a favour to Dewani.

Van Zyl said Thelma made a statement to police in which she said Bravetti called her to the back of the shop and gave her gold to give to another dealer.

She said in the statement that the dealer gave her R10,000 cash and she took the money to Bravetti.

The witness shook her head and said Thelma was confused.

She added that gold had to be sold early in the morning or not at all. She also remembered quoting Dewani a rate of R6.80 to the dollar.

"He will say he never had any dollars with him. He will say he came with pounds," Van Zyl said.

-SAPA

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