Dewani 'needed way out of marriage' court hears

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The Independent Online

Bristol-based businessman Shrien Dewani arranged his wife's murder on honeymoon in South Africa after confessing he needed to "find a way out of" his marriage, a court has heard.

The 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.

An unnamed witness prepared to give evidence if Dewani stands trial claims the wealthy care home owner revealed to him his true feelings about his marriage more than six months earlier, the court heard.

Hugo Keith QC, representing the South African authorities, said: "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 the dangerous Gugulethu township.

He is also wanted for offences of kidnapping, robbery with aggravated circumstances, conspiracy to commit murder, and obstructing the administration of justice, Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south east London heard on the first day of his extradition hearing.

As Mr 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 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, Mr Keith said.

He added: "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."

The 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, Mr Keith said.

Outlining the sequence of events, Mr Keith said the newlyweds touched down in the South African city after spending the first three days of their honeymoon at the country's Kruger National Park.

Tongo drove the couple to the Cape Grace hotel where they were staying and, 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," Mr Keith said. "Dewani indicated he would be prepared to pay 15,000 rand (about £1,375)."

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 rand, the taxi driver alleged.

"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," Mr Keith went on.

"The kidnap and robbery were designed to make it look like a random attack."

In his plea agreement, Tongo explained that 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 sure enough he was put in touch with a man called Mziwamadoda Qwabe, the court was told.

A plan was hatched and a third man, Xolile Mngeni, was also 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, Mr 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.

But 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," Mr 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," Mr Keith added.

And this time the alleged plan was executed, 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 and 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," Mr Keith said.

Tongo's vehicle was later found abandoned, Mr 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."

A post-mortem examination revealed that the young woman died of a single gunshot wound to the neck, with no signs that she had been sexually assaulted.

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," Mr Keith said.

He explained that 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 that the evidence the cabbie gave in his plea agreement was "consistent with the evidence at their disposal", Mr Keith said.

This, he went on, 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 rand;

:: 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.

Dewani, who is said to be suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, denies any wrongdoing and is fighting extradition.

For him to be sent back to South Africa to stand trial, District Judge Howard Riddle must be satisfied his human rights will not be breached - including in custody, the court heard.

And his lawyer, Clare Montgomery QC, called on experts on the country's prison system to give evidence that its jails are often overcrowded, under-staffed and under-resourced.

Gang culture and rape are also rife, Amanda Dissel and Sasha Gear from Johannesburg's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation told the court via video link.

There are not always enough beds for inmates at overcrowded prisons in the country, Ms Dissel said, and Ms Montgomery cited a report stating that a lack of eating utensils meant prisoners sometimes had to eat with their hands from plastic containers.

Questioned on other aspects of the South African justice system, Ms Dissel said: "There have been some worrying cases where detainees have been assaulted in police custody."

Asked about deaths in custody, Ms Gear said: "One of the concerns is deaths may be avoidable that are not being avoided because inmates are not able to access the care they require on admission (to prison)."

She went on to describe how gangs and other inmates' hierarchies control much of the prisoners' daily lives.

"Inmates are very vulnerable to these power structures," she said.

Health services, including those dealing with mental health, are often "overburdened" and sexual assault is encouraged by the gang hierarchy in the prison system, the court heard.

Dewani would be particularly at risk of mistreatment, Ms Gear said.

"He's likely to be very vulnerable to sexual violence because of certain of his characteristics," she said.

"One is that he's not an experienced criminal... He would lack street credentials that are required to be respected in prison and the lack of which can put someone in a vulnerable position...

"He's unfamiliar with the local reality of the place he's likely to be incarcerated in, the slang used, which makes him less likely to be able to defend himself."

His youthful good looks could also increase his vulnerability, she suggested, as well as allegations of his homosexuality, the publicity surrounding his case and the fact that his alleged crime was not one of violence against another man and therefore would be less "worthy of respect".

If Dewani was extradited, he would be detained at Goodwood correctional centre pending his trial.

If convicted, he would be jailed in Malmesbury Prison or, if he is deemed to be a high security prisoner, in Brandvlei Prison.

A recent report found that Goodwood was operating at 122% capacity.

Dewani left court halfway through the day after Ms Montgomery asked District Judge Riddle to allow him to return to Fromeside Clinic, a secure mental health hospital in Bristol where he is on bail.

"He wishes to get better as soon as possible and sees going back to hospital as the best method to achieve this," she said.