Husband accused over honeymoon murder

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A British man whose new wife was killed on honeymoon in South Africa plotted her murder, a court heard today.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo, 31, claimed Shrien Dewani offered him £1,300 (15,000 Rand) to have 28-year-old Anni killed.

Mrs Dewani was shot dead by gunmen a day later as she and her husband, 31, were driven through Gugulethu township in Cape Town.

Tongo's claims formed part of a plea agreement drawn up with prosecutors at the Cape High Court, where he was jailed for 18 years for his part in the killing on November 13.

Mr Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, who has denied any involvement in his wife's murder, returned to England after the killing.

But authorities have not ruled out making an extradition request for his return to South Africa.

Mrs Dewani's father, Viand Hindocha, struggled to contain his grief during today's hearing and left the court with tears in his eyes.

Publicist Max Clifford, who has been acting on behalf of Mr Dewani, described Mr Tongo's accusations as the latest in a string of false allegations against him.

In a statement the Dewani family said: "Shrien is totally innocent of any involvement in this heinous crime.

"These allegations are totally ludicrous and very hurtful to a young man who is grieving the loss of the woman he loved, his chosen life partner.

"South African police have never sought to speak to Shrien regarding the allegations.

"Instead two weeks have been spent negotiating this confession from the taxi driver while the two others accused have complained of torture and false confessions.

"Mr Dewani remains in the UK where he has been receiving medical treatment as well as trauma and bereavement counselling."

The court heard that Tongo took the couple from Cape Town International Airport to the Cape Grace hotel, on the city's Waterfront, on the day they arrived in South Africa.

But once at the hotel, Mr Dewani asked Tongo to procure a hitman to have "a woman" killed, it was claimed.

Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney de Kock told Judge President John Hlophe: "The alleged hijacking was in fact not a hijacking but part of a plan of subterfuge which Shrien Dewani, the husband of the deceased, and the accused had designed to conceal the true facts, to wit that the deceased was murdered at the instance of her husband."

In his formal admission, handed to the court as part of the agreement, Tongo said he had been waiting for fares when Mr Dewani asked to be driven to the five-star Cape Grace hotel.

"After we arrived at the hotel, Shrien Dewani approached me alone and asked me if I knew anyone that could 'have a client of his taken off the scene'," Tongo said.

"After some discussion with him, I understood that he wanted someone, a woman, killed.

"He said he was willing to pay an amount of 15,000 rand. Shrien Dewani said he had US dollars and could pay in US dollars."

Later that day, the taxi driver spoke to a friend about arranging a hitman.

He was put in touch with Xolile Mnguni, 23, from Khayelitsha, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, also from Khayelitsha, he said.

The pair have also been charged in connection with the case.

Meeting in Tongo's car in Khayelitsha on the afternoon of November 13, they arranged the fake hijacking and murder, he said.

"We agreed that Shrien Dewani and I would be ejected from the vehicle and that the female occupant had to be killed," he told the court.

He picked up Mr and Mrs Dewani at the hotel that night and took them to some "city sights", before driving to the intersection in Gugulethu where it was arranged the hitmen would launch their attack.

But the plans went awry and the men were not in position. Tongo continued in the direction of Somerset West, where the Dewanis had supper, he said.

"Prior to entering the restaurant, Shrien Dewani asked me what was happening and said he wanted the job done that night," he added.

As the couple ate, he received a call from the hitmen who confirmed they would be in place.

Mrs Dewani was killed shortly after they left the restaurant - she and her husband had only been married for a fortnight.

Tongo was ordered out of the vehicle after the attack.

"They then drove off with Shrien Dewani and the deceased still in the vehicle," he said.

"I knew that (the hitmen) would not harm Shrien Dewani and that he would be dropped off at some further point. I also knew that the deceased would be kidnapped, robbed and murdered... after Shrien Dewani had been ejected from the vehicle in accordance with the plan."

The court heard that Tongo, from Bothasig, sent a text message to Mr Dewani as they drove through Cape Town, reminding him not to forget about the money.

A reply informed him this was stashed in an envelope behind the front passenger seat.

The driver was later charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and perverting the course of justice.

Mnguni, 23, and Qwabe, 25, will remain in custody until they appear at Wynberg Regional Court on February 25 to face charges of murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

They are due to go on trial at Western Cape High Court at a later date.

Outside court, Mr Hindocha, who is based in Sweden and was consulted by prosecutors on the plea bargain, said: "I'd like to say thank you to the South African people for their support and thank you for the whole world for the condolence messages to our family through email, through Facebook, postal...

"And I hope... no, I have nothing more to say. Thank you all. Thank you."

He was accompanied to court by a brother-in-law and his brother Ashok, who told reporters: "We have been treated well in South Africa by the police, and we are very, very confident about everything here.

"Our wish to all the (people) involved is to please end this case as soon as possible. That includes the Swedish authority, the British authority, the South African authority.

"Because every day 'til this case ends is a torture for us. So please... don't delay."

A spokesman for South Africa's national prosecuting office said a bid to request Mr Dewani's extradition was "a matter that is likely to be considered" as part of continuing investigations.

"Based on what happened in court today, obviously the investigations are going to intensify," he said.