Prosecutor says Dewani is a 'guilty fugitive'

Uproar as top legal official claims on TV that Briton accused of murdering his wife on honeymoon committed 'a heinous crime'
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The Independent Online

A fresh row has erupted in the "honeymoon" murder case in South Africa after the country's director of public prosecutions claimed on TV that the British businessman accused of arranging the murder of his wife was a "fugitive" and guilty of "committing a heinous crime".'

Supporters of Shrien Dewani last night expressed fury at comments made by Menzi Simelane, who stated that Mr Dewani had "murdered his wife when he should have been celebrating his honeymoon".

They claim the comments are further evidence that the case has been prejudged by the South African authorities and show that Mr Dewani cannot have a fair trial. They argue it is the latest in a series of intemperate comments made by senior police and judicial authorities. South Africa's police chief, Bheki Cele, was criticised last year after calling Mr Dewani a murdering "monkey".

In the latest incident, Mr Simelane said during the interview: "As a matter of fact, Mr Dewani is a fugitive because he ran away. He ran out of a country [where] there was a warrant of arrest for him. So as a fugitive, we then informed Interpol that we would like an international arrest warrant issued for him. So he was flagged internationally and he can't go anywhere, basically."

In fact, Mr Dewani left South Africa with police permission and enjoyed special police arrangements for him to leave in order to avoid media attention at Cape Town airport.

Mr Dewani, 31, from Bristol, is currently fighting legal moves by South Africa to extradite him to face murder charges in Cape Town. He is accused of murdering his 28-year-old wife, Anni. The newlyweds were honeymooning when a taxi in which they were travelling was hijacked last November. The driver and Mr Dewani were left at the roadside, but his wife was abducted and later found shot dead in the abandoned vehicle.

Four South Africans have been arrested in connection with the murder and one has been sentenced to 18 years in jail. But the South African police insist that the plot was "masterminded" by Mr Dewani and are seeking his extradition. Two of the men accused of involvement in the killing claimed through their lawyers last week that they had been tortured by the police. Both men are expected to appear in court this week. The lawyers claimed police used "irregular methods" because they were under pressure to solve the high-profile crime.

The Dewani family declined to comment last night and refused to criticise the South African authorities, judiciary or police. A family spokesman said: "The matter is the subject of ongoing legal process where Shrien's name will be cleared." It is believed, however, that lawyers acting for the family will lodge a formal complaint this week about Mr Simelane's comments.

Legal experts in South Africa have cast doubt on claims that Mr Dewani would not get a fair trial. They believe any trial is almost certain to be transferred to the high court because of the seriousness of the charges and its controversial nature. The case would be heard by an experienced senior judge and two lay assessors. The family of Mr Dewani's wife have urged him to return voluntarily to face trial.

Mr Simelane has rapidly become a controversial figure. He became embroiled in the attempt to oust his predecessor, Vusi Pikoli, who was suspended by the former president, Thabo Mbeki. Mr Simelane's testimony to a parliamentary inquiry into Mr Pikoli's fitness to hold office was later described as dishonest, contradictory and without basis in law and is now the subject of an official complaint being investigated by the Pretoria Society of Advocates.