Police chief brands honeymoon murder suspect a 'monkey'

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The Independent Online

South Africa's chief of police yesterday described the British widower of a tourist killed on honeymoon in Cape Town as a "monkey" as he insisted his force was right to consider him a murder suspect.

The national police commissioner, Bheki Cele, aimed his comments at Shrien Dewani, who was accused of arranging the murder of his wife, Anni Dewani, 28, while the couple honeymooned in South Africa last month.

Speaking in Limpopo province, Mr Cele said: "One monkey came from London to kill his wife here. He thought we South Africans were stupid. Don't kill people here."

Extradition lawyers said that it was not uncommon for foreign police in extradition cases to make negative comments on suspects and while Mr Cele's comments did not necessarily leave Mr Dewani open to an unfair trial if he is extradited, they did raise questions about whether the police could prejudice the case.

Mr Dewani, 30, was arrested by British police on behalf of the South African authorities after he voluntarily walked into a Bristol police station on Tuesday. The evidence against Mr Dewani rests on the testimony of the couple's taxi driver, Zola Tongo, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison after admitting his role in a plea bargain with South African prosecutors.

Tongo told the High Court in Cape Town that Mr Dewani hired him to drive the newlyweds through Gugulethu, a township notorious for violent crime, where two accomplices would stage a carjacking in which Tongo and Mr Dewani would be freed. He claimed Mr Dewani organised the hit shortly after arriving in South Africa, which Mr Dewani denies. Mrs Dewani's body was found with bullet wounds in the abandoned car.

The two alleged accomplices, Xolile Mnguni, 23, and Mzwamadoda Qwabe, 25, face charges including murder and kidnapping and will remain in custody until a hearing in February.

Mr Dewani, who was described as being in a "dreadful state" following the killing, is strongly supported by his family. He was granted bail on Wednesday after his relatives put up a £250,000 bond but he was taken back into custody after the South African government lodged an appeal his release. He remains in custody pending a High Court hearing today.

Senior district judge Howard Riddle said: "Either Mr Dewani over a period of time plotted the murder of his wife or he is one of the tragic victims of this incident." He added: "It is clear there is evidence that has been put before me and on the face of it, and I put it no higher than that, evidence on which a trial could evidently proceed."

Matters were further complicated after Mr Dewani's previous lawyer, Billy Gundelfinger, announced he was "amicably" withdrawing.

Mr Cele's comments could also spark criticism from those who believe the police are not doing enough to counter violent crime in South Africa and in particular the Gugulethu township. The South African Institute of Race Relations said the South African police were "out of touch with reality" last month after the force expressed shock at Mrs Dewani's murder.

"If they are truly shocked it suggests the police's senior management are out of touch with the reality of life on the ground for people in areas such as Gugulethu who have been left to run the gauntlet of violent crime," it said, adding that there had been 700 murders in the township since 2005.