Murdered bride's husband paid to have her killed, says cab driver

Shrien Dewani arranged to have his new bride murdered after striking a deal with a taxi driver in South Africa where they were on their honeymoon, the High Court in Cape Town heard.

The case of the British businessman who escaped unharmed on the night Anni Dewani, 28, was killed in an apparent car jacking has been the subject of furious speculation and police leaks in South Africa.

Yesterday, sensational claims were made before the High Court by taxi driver Zola Tongo, who was jailed for 18 years for his part in the killing after making a plea agreement with the prosecutors. He alleged that Mr Dewani had offered him R15,000 (£1,300) to hire hitmen.

As the South African authorities said that Mr Dewani's extradition from the UK "was likely to be considered", his publicist Max Clifford described the allegations as "totally ludicrous and very hurtful".

The couple, from Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, had only been married for a fortnight when they were held at gunpoint on the night of 13 November.

They had eaten dinner in the Cape Winelands region when they asked their taxi driver to take them to Gugulethu to see some of "the real Africa". The Volkswagen Sharan they were driven in was carjacked shortly after 10pm when the gunman forced Mr Dewani and Tongo from the car.

Mr Dewani, 31, who admitted it was an impulsive decision to drive through a dangerous township at night, said he was thrown out of a window of the hijacked taxi after pleading with the attackers to release him and his wife.

Mrs Dewani's body was discovered the next day in the abandoned car in another township on the outskirts of Cape Town. The Swedish-born engineer is believed to have been shot three times. Her husband's rapid return to Britain led to speculation in the South African media.

Yesterday Tongo, 31, appeared in the dock as Mrs Dewani's father, Viand Hindocha, sat nearby struggling to contain his grief. In his formal admission, Tongo claimed he had been waiting for fares at Cape Town International Airport when the couple asked to be driven to the five-star Cape Grace hotel on the city's Waterfront.

"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 R15,000. Shrien Dewani said he had US dollars and could pay in US dollars."

Later that day, Tongo claimed he spoke to a friend and was put in touch with Xolile Mnguni, 23, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, both of whom are from Khayelitsha. The pair are due to appear at Wynberg Regional Court on 25 February to face charges of murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

Their plans initially went awry when the hitmen failed to appear so Tongo took the Dewanis on to have supper, the court heard. "Prior to entering the restaurant, Shrien Dewani asked me what was happening and said he wanted the job done that night," Tongo said.

As the couple ate, Tongo said he received a call from the hitmen who confirmed they would be in place. As they attacked, the driver was ordered out of the vehicle first, he said. "I knew that the deceased would be kidnapped, robbed and murdered after Shrien Dewani had been ejected from the vehicle in accordance with the plan," he said.

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

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 insistence of her husband."

Mr Clifford said his client was totally innocent and was in Britain receiving medical treatment as well as trauma counselling. "These allegations are totally ludicrous and very hurtful to a young man who is grieving the loss of the woman he loved," he said.