Briton in court over honeymoon murder of wife in S.Africa

8th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

A British businessman was due to appear in court in London Wednesday after being arrested on suspicion of conspiring to have his Swedish bride murdered while on honeymoon in South Africa.

Shrien Dewani, 30, was arrested late Tuesday at the request of South African authorities after surrendering to police in Bristol, southwest England, a statement said. He denies any involvement in the murder.

Anni Dewani, 28, was killed on November 13 after the couple's taxi was reportedly hijacked outside Cape Town.

Her husband was released unharmed but her bullet-riddled body, robbed of her Armani watch, white gold and diamond bracelet, handbag and phone, was later found in an impoverished township neighbourhood.

Dewani was arrested after being named as a conspirator by the driver of the taxi, Zola Tonga, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail Tuesday after pleading guilty to murder and aggravated robbery.

"Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Extradition Unit have... arrested Shrien Prakash Dewani, 30, on behalf of the South African authorities," said a statement from London police.

It noted the allegation against him -- "on 13 November 2010, in Cape Town, South Africa, (he) conspired with others to murder Anni Dewani" -- and said he would appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court later Wednesday.

Dewani's family, who have hired public relations guru Max Clifford, rejected the accusations as "ludicrous".

"Shrien is totally innocent of any involvement in this heinous crime," they said in a statement.

"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."

The family said South African police had never sought to speak to Dewani about the accusations, but had instead spent two weeks "negotiating this confession from the taxi driver", and said two other suspects had complained of torture.

Three men were originally charged with Anni Dewani's murder but as part of a plea bargain, the High Court in Cape Town heard Tuesday that taxi driver Tongo had alleged that the husband ordered the killing.

"The deceased was murdered at the instance of her husband," Western Cape director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock told judge John Hlophe in court, South African national news agency SAPA reported.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Eric Ntabazalila told AFP that Tongo had given evidence that he was approached by the Briton and promised 15,000 rand (2,175 dollars) "to remove someone off the scene."

"After some discussion with him I understood that he wanted someone, a woman, killed," said Tongo in a sworn statement.

He enlisted two accomplices to conduct the murder, according to Ntabazalila.

Tongo's plea bargain documents reveal that the hijacking was part of a plan devised together with Dewani to conceal the murder.

"Threatening me and Shrien Dewani with a firearm was a mere pretence of force," he said.

The two other men accused of Dewani's killing are due to face trial on February 25.

Prior to the killing, the honeymooners had dined in a seaside restaurant in a town outside Cape Town and were on their way back to the city when Anni Dewani asked to see township nightlife, according to reports at the time.

But court documents released on Tuesday said this was part of a plan concocted by the victim's husband and Tongo.

Tongo told the court he carefully went through the hijacking and murder details with Dewani, even taking him to a black market foreign exchange dealer in Cape Town to arrange payment and avoid a bank audit trail.

"The agreement was that after the hijacking of the vehicle, Shrien Dewani and I would be ejected from the vehicle unharmed... the deceased would be kidnapped and robbed, before she was murdered," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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