February trial date for Dewani murder suspects

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The Independent Online

The trial of two men accused of murdering newlywed Anni Dewani on the orders of her British husband will start in the High Court in Cape Town in February, a magistrate said yesterday.

The remand hearing at Wynberg Regional Court near Cape Town marked the first court appearance for more than three months of Xolile Mngeni, 23, who is being treated for a brain tumour. Looking gaunt and unsteady, he was helped into the dock by his co-accused, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25.

Mrs Dewani, a 28-year-old Swedish engineer, died after a car hijacking on 13 November last year, the day after arriving in Cape Town on honeymoon. South African prosecutors claim her murder was ordered by her British husband, Shrien Dewani, 31, who has been fighting extradition to South Africa.

Last month at Belmarsh magistrates' court in south-east London, Judge Howard Riddle ruled that Mr Dewani, who denies any involvement in the death of his wife, can be extradited to face trial. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has until 10 October to overrule Judge Riddle. If she does not, Mr Dewani still has the right to appeal.

Documents released by the prosecution yesterday list five charges against Mr Mngeni and Mr Qwabe, including murder, kidnapping, robbery and possession of an unlicensed firearm.

Mr Dewani is named as having conspired with Mr Qwabe, Mr Mngeni and a taxi driver, Zola Tongo, "to have the deceased kidnapped, robbed and murdered following a simulated hijacking".

Mr Dewani, a care home owner from Bristol, faces charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and obstructing the administration of justice.

He has been confined to a secure mental health hospital in Bristol and has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last December, after entering into a plea bargain with the prosecution that named Mr Dewani as the instigator, Tongo was jailed for 18 years.

After yesterday's hearing, the local director of public prosecutions, Rodney De Kock, denied assumptions that the move to trial without the guaranteed presence of Mr Dewani implied that prosecutors had lost hope of the widower returning to South Africa. "The decision simply signals that the prosecution is ready to transfer the case," he said.