Bail blow for honeymoon murder accused husband
Wednesday 08 December 2010
The British newlywed accused of paying to have his bride killed on their South African honeymoon is to be held in jail after an appeal was lodged against the granting of £250,000 bail.
Shrien Dewani, who was arrested last night on a South African extradition warrant, was initially granted bail when he appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court today.
But the South African authorities lodged an immediate appeal, which means the businessman from Bristol will be held in custody pending a High Court hearing.
Dewani, whose wife Anni, 28, was shot dead last month as they visited a township, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to murder her.
The 30-year-old was accused of ordering her death by taxi driver Zola Tongo as he was sentenced for his part in the killing in a South African court yesterday.
The court heard that Tongo had not only implicated Dewani in the murder, but had also mentioned to another man that he thought it was not the first time the Briton had arranged such a killing.
The taxi driver said he got the impression that Dewani had been in South Africa before and "had done something like this before and said he wanted the murder to look like a hijacking", according to a statement given to South African police by an alleged middle-man.
Acting for the South African authorities, lawyer Ben Watson told today's extradition hearing that Dewani had met Tongo at Cape Town international airport and arranged for him to take him and his new bride to their hotel and to act as their tour guide.
As their guide, Tongo collected the couple from their hotel and took them out for dinner at a seafood restaurant.
On their way back, they passed through the dangerous Gugulethu township, where the allegedly pre-ordered hijacking took place, Mr Watson said.
Speaking outside City of Westminster Magistrates' Court today, members of Mrs Dewani's family said they wanted "justice for Anni".
The relatives, including three women cousins, appeared shaken after hearing details of the case.
Asked if Mr Dewani should return to South Africa, one man said: "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."
The suspicions of the South African authorities were aroused by the fact that the couple did not make use of the airport-to-hotel shuttle service, hiring Tongo to take them to their hotel instead, City of Westminster Magistrates' Court heard.
Investigators also thought it strange that Tongo had taken the couple to Gugulethu to view a restaurant that was known to be closed at the time of their visit, Mr Watson said.
Added to that was the fact that neither Mr Dewani nor the taxi driver were even injured in the incident, having been forced out of the vehicle separately, while Mrs Dewani was brutally killed.
And it seemed odd to them that Tongo would take the couple to a township known to be dangerous, the court was told.
Outlining the alleged sequence of events, Mr Watson told the court that Tongo apparently told the middle-man he was looking for a hitman to murder someone.
Having found a potential candidate, Xolile Mnguni, the taxi driver told him he would be "bringing a couple into the town that evening and the husband wanted his wife murdered".
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 as "flimsy" and suggested it was cooked up to defend the reputation of South Africa as a tourist destination.
Ms 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 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."
Ms Montgomery said there is no evidence her client has travelled to South Africa before so he could not have arranged another deadly hijacking.
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.
Ms Montgomery said it also seemed extremely unlikely Mr Dewani could arrange for a professional hit in the one-and-a-half hours between arriving in South Africa and reaching his hotel.
She said: "That is an unfeasibly short time even for an experienced criminal to recruit a taxi driver. It is improbable in the extreme given Mr Dewani's background."
Ms Montgomery added: "Far from killing his wife he mourns her death and far from seeking her murder, those who murdered her are now unjustly accusing him."
Addressing why he should be bailed, Ms Montgomery said he had no previous convictions and was from a wealthy, well-connected and totally law-abiding family.
Ms Montgomery highlighted how he went straight to police, returned to Britain with their support and remained in touch with his liaison officer when the allegations first surfaced.
She said: "It is simply fanciful to treat him, as the prosecution do, as a villain who might run away rather than face up to trial."
Speaking after the hearing, Ms Montgomery said it was unlikely the High Court bail appeal hearing would take place tomorrow. She said it may be listed on Friday.
Mr Riddle said Dewani could be released on bail subject to a string of strict conditions, including a £250,000 surety and that he wore an electronic tag.
He also ordered the murder suspect to surrender his passport, live at the family home in Bristol and observe a curfew between 10am and 2pm and 10pm and 2am.
He must also report at his local police station every evening and not apply for any international travel documents.
Mr Riddle said there was a "stark" difference between the competing prosecution and defence version of events.
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."
The judge said the "succinct and strong" points made by Ms Montgomery highlighted how Mr Dewani could be acquitted at trial in South Africa.
He added that Dewani has the "strongest possible" community ties and his father and brother had offered sureties on his behalf.
Mr Dewani, who appeared in the dock of the packed court room wearing a maroon hooded sweater, spoke only to confirm his name, age and date of birth.
Members of both his and his late wife's family were in court for the hearing.
Making the case against releasing the well-educated businessman on bail, Mr Watson said: "It is believed he will fail to appear and will abscond. He's wanted for conspiracy to murder his wife on honeymoon.
"Other defendants have been arrested and one has pleaded guilty. They have alleged Mr Dewani paid them to kill his wife...
"If he's found guilty he will face a substantial custodial sentence."
Mr Dewani, who comes from a respected and wealthy family, runs a company which owns a number of care homes, Mr Watson said.
"He has access to huge sums of money that could assist him if he intends to flee," he said. "He has travelled extensively and frequently in the last few years."
Even if the most stringent bail conditions were imposed, they may not be sufficient to stop Dewani from absconding and failing to appear back in court, he argued.
This was despite the fact that Dewani had attended a police station voluntarily after he was implicated in the murder.
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