Court clears Dewani of honeymoon murder

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By Amit Roy
  • Published 9.12.14
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(From top) A file picture of Shrien and Anni Dewani; Shrien’s parents, Prakash and Snila, outside the court in Cape Town on Monday; Anni’s sister, Ami, speaks to journalists after the verdict with her brother, Anish, and father, Vinod, outside the court. (Reuters)

London, Dec. 8: Shrien Dewani, a 34-year-old British Indian businessman, was preparing to fly home to Bristol from Cape Town after a South African judge today threw out the prosecution case that he had hired hit men to have his wife, Anni, 28, killed while the couple were on honeymoon.

Anni's body was discovered in a taxi in the rough township of Gugulethu near Cape Town early on the morning of November 14, 2010, barely two weeks after she and Shrien had been married in a lavish wedding at the Lake Powai resort outside Mumbai on October 29, 2010.

In what came to be known worldwide as "the honeymoon murder", Shrien was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, kidnapping, and defeating the ends of justice.

He resisted extradition from the UK for four years before being brought to South Africa and put on trial on October 6, 2014. The case against him was that he had wanted his wife silenced because she was about to walk out from their marriage after discovering he was a homosexual.

But at the very start of the trial, Shrien admitted he was bisexual although his family had earlier denied he was homosexual. "My sexual interactions with males were mostly physical experiences or email chats with people I met online or in clubs, including (German) prostitutes such as Leipold Leisser," Shrien stated in his plea document.

"My sexual interactions with females were usually during the course of a relationship which consisted of other activities and emotional attachment," he added.

It was alleged Shrien had conspired with a taxi driver, Zola Tongo, 31, who recruited two hit men, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 29, and Xolile Mngeni, 27, using the good offices of a hall porter, Monde Mbolombo, at the five star Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town where the couple were staying.

Tongo is serving 18 years in prison; Qwabe, given 25 years, has died in prison from a brain tumour. And Mbolombo, who was given immunity from prosecution, has been stripped of his immunity.

Judge Jeanette Traverso started reading her explanation of why she was dismissing the murder case against Shrien at 8am today, before reaching her widely anticipated conclusion at 10.45am: "The accused is found not guilty of this charge."

The judge declared that the evidence from the three criminals already convicted was "so improbable, with so many mistakes, lies and inconsistencies you cannot see where the lies ended and the truth begins".

She said the evidence of Tongo, who testified against Shrien after entering a plea bargain, was "riddled with contradictions", while others had lied on oath.

Tongo was described as a "completely unreliable witness" who contradicted others who gave evidence and whose explanations were "laughable". It was highly unlikely the men, all intelligent, would agree to kill Anni for a mere 15,000 rands (£830), she said.

The judge recognised there was public pressure to let the case continue when there was no chance of a successful prosecution.

"If any court admitted public opinion or emotion to affect their judgment, there would be anarchy," she said.

In the last few weeks, there were many indications that the judge would agree with Shrien's defence lawyer Francois van Zyl that the prosecution witnesses had failed to prove their case and that there were no reason to proceed further.

This is what precisely happened today, with Anni's family, who have lived in Sweden since their expulsion from Uganda in 1972, expressing bitter disappointment that Shrien had not been called to give a detailed account of what happened between him and Anni during their honeymoon in South Africa.

"We've heard that Shrien left a double life and Anni wasn't aware of it," said Anni's older sister, Ami Denborg, as her father Vinod laid his face on his son Anish's shoulder as he wept, his face crumpled, with tears falling onto his son's suit.

Anish also wept. He has been in court every minute of the 25 days of the trial, supporting his parents.

His mother, Nilam, who is suffering from cancer, was silent in her grief, her face wet with tears. Finally, her voice cracking with emotion, Ami said: "'We came here for the truth, seeking answers but are left with so many unanswered questions, it's a very sad day and believe that justice has failed us."

In court, Shrien's family had sat opposite Anni's. Shrien quickly left the dock as soon as the verdict was announced.

His mother, Shila, shook with emotion but did not comment, and neither did Shrien's father, Prakash, or his elder brother, Preyen.

Perhaps there will have to be answers later as to whether both families put pressure on Shrien to marry when all the evidence now reveals he was sexually aroused only with men. Or did he think that once he married, problems with his sexuality would disappear?

Shrien and Anni exchanged fond text messages about their private parts, referring to them as Fred and Wilma. But Anni also expressed unhappiness that the marriage was not working out.

Shrien was privately educated at Bristol Grammar School, which is 500 years old and costs more than £11,000 per year. He read economics at Manchester University, qualified as an accountant and was working with consultancy giant Deloitte in London when he met Anni, a Swedish national, through mutual friends.

As to why he married her may remain a mystery.

There will be those who will contend that a guilty man has gone free, among them the South African police and the prosecution who have shown themselves to be woefully incompetent in preparing their case.

South African National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Ncube told reporters: "It is unfortunate that Mr Dewani has been acquitted because we believe that he was involved. The fact of the matter is that we were relying on people who were themselves involved and implicated in the case."

But not many will be impressed with this comment because the judge analysed the evidence against Shrien and totally demolished the prosecution case. There will be no appeal.

On the balance of probability it does seem that Shrien is an innocent man and that Anni was the victim of a car jacking that went wrong. According to the country's statistics, 700 people were murdered in Gugulethu township in the five years before Anni's death.