Dewani spoke of needing 'a way out' of engagement, court told

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The Independent Online

A British businessman accused of arranging his wife's murder while on honeymoon in South Africa told a witness he needed to "find a way out" of his engagement seven months before she was killed, an extradition hearing has been told. South African authorities are seeking to extradite Shrien Dewani, 31, from Bristol, over the death of his Swedish wife, Anni, 28, who was shot in the back of a taxi in Cape Town last November.

An unshaven Mr Dewani, who was dressed in black, remained silent throughout the proceedings, attended by more than 30 members of his and Ms Dewani's family. Mr Dewani suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and is being held in a mental-health hospital in Somerset.

Hugo Keith QC, representing the South African authorities, said an unidentified witness – who had met Mr Dewani in November 2009 – claimed the defendant told him six months before his Mumbai wedding that he "had to get married" in order to placate his family.

"Although she was a nice, lovely girl who he liked, he could not break off the engagement because he would be disowned by his family," Mr Keith said, reading the statement to the court. "He went on to say to the witness he needed to find a way out of it."

The testimony is the first suggestion by the South African authorities that they have a motive for Mr Dewani's alleged involvement in the murder. According to Mr Keith, the witness is prepared to testify against Mr Dewani if he were to be put on trial.

Mr Dewani is accused of arranging for his bride, Anni, to be killed in a staged car-jacking while they were passing through Cape Town's notoriously dangerous Gugulethu township on 13 November. She was found in the backseat of the abandoned taxi the following day with a single gunshot wound to her neck.

Mr Dewani, who denies all charges against him, also faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravated circumstances and obstructing the administration of justice, Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south-east London heard on the first day of his extradition hearing.

The court heard that he became a suspect in the killing after South African taxi driver, Zola Tongo, admitted his own role in the "conspiracy" to kill Ms Dewani.

Mr Dewani's defence has expressed concern about the conditions he will face if he returns to South Africa.

The case continues.