Dewani remanded

2010-12-09 07:16

The British newlywed accused of hiring a hitman to murder his bride was remanded in custody last night as the South African authorities fought to extradite him.

Wealthy businessman Shrien Dewani (30) was released on £250 000 (more than R2.7 billion) bail with an electronic tag and strict curfew by a judge at City of Westminster Magistrates Court.

But the decision was dramatically over-ridden before he could walk free after representatives of the South African government lodged appeal documents.

Dewani will now appear before the High Court, possibly as soon as Thursday, where a more senior judge will review whether he should be granted bail.

The Bristol care home owner is wanted over the death of his wife Anni (28), who was found dead in the back of an abandoned taxi with a single bullet wound to her neck on November 13.

Driver Zola Tongo has accused him of offering to pay R15?000 for her murder and ordering it to appear like a bungled carjacking as they drove through a notorious township.

Ben Watson, for the South African government, claimed Tongo also believed Dewani had arranged another murder in the country, in similar circumstances, before.

The court heard the spotlight of suspicion turned on Dewani when police questioned why he did not use an airport-to-hotel shuttle service.

Investigators also thought it strange that Tongo had taken the couple to Gugulethu, a notoriously dangerous area, to view a restaurant that closed at 9pm.

They were suspicious too of the fact that neither Dewani or the taxi driver were injured, having been robbed and forced out of the vehicle.

Outlining the alleged sequence of events, Watson said Tongo hired a killer through a middleman and set up an ambush on the main route out of Gugulethu.

Dewani was robbed of his valuables, including cash, his BlackBerry and his wristwatch. Jewellery and electronics were also taken from Mrs Dewani and a phone from the driver.

The court heard that although Tongo had promised R15?000 to the alleged hitmen, Xolile Mnguni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, they were only given R10?000.

Watson said Dewani withdrew just over R10?000 over the two days before the shooting, although prosecutors accept this evidence is “circumstantial“.

Clare Montgomery QC, representing Dewani, said her client was accused by a group of self-confessed robbers and murderers desperate to escape a life sentence.

She branded the case against him “flimsy” and suggested it was cooked up to defend the reputation of South Africa as a tourist destination.

Montgomery said the murder would “seriously damage the reputation of South Africa if it were merely the work of a local gang” and a story was put together to “put blame on someone else”.

She said: “It is clear that what has happened has been devastating, a nightmare for him to lose his wife and now to be the subject of these allegations.

“But he is personally willing to deal with these allegations and in my submission he is reasonably confident they come from men with nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Montgomery said there was no evidence her client had travelled to South Africa before so he could not have arranged another deadly hijacking.

And she added that financial records showed he only had enough money to pay the gang the money they wanted if he spent nothing at all during three days on a luxury honeymoon.

District Judge Howard Riddle said there was a “stark” difference between the competing prosecution and defence version of events and highlighted how Dewani could be acquitted.

He said: “Either Mr Dewani over a period of time plotted the murder of his wife or he is one of the tragic victims of these circumstances.” Dewani was initially told he could be released on bail subject to a string of strict conditions, including a £250 000 surety, that he wore an electronic tag and observed a curfew.

Speaking outside the court, one of Mrs Dewani’s cousins said the family “want justice for Anni” and said all the evidence must be heard in a “fair trial”.

Asked if that would mean Dewani going to South Africa a male relative replied: “I would say so, yes.” He added:
“Well I would say he needs to go. That is all I would say.”

Another family member added as they pushed through a scrum of media, “Nothing will bring our daughter back.”

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