S.Africa court hears Briton plotted wife's murder
A British businessman conspired to have his Swedish bride murdered while honeymooning in South Africa just weeks after their glitzy Hindu wedding, it was alleged in court on Tuesday.
The claim marked a sensational twist in the murder of Anni Dewani, 28, who was killed after the car in which she was travelling with her husband Shrien Dewani was reportedly hijacked on the outskirts of Cape Town on November 13.
The victim's bullet-riddled body was later found in an impoverished township neighbourhood.
Dewani's husband, who returned to Britain days after the incident in which he was unharmed, has denied involvement, but the court heard allegations he connived with a taxi driver to stage a robbery and have his wife shot dead.
Three men were originally charged with the murder but as part of a plea bargain the High Court in Cape Town heard one of the accused allege 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, national news agency SAPA reported.
A judicial spokesman refused to say if Dewani, who accompanied his wife's body back to Britain, would be charged.
The claim that Dewani plotted the murder was made by Zola Tongo, the driver of the taxi in which the couple were travelling in near Cape Town.
Tongo was sentenced to 18 years in jail on Tuesday after pleading guilty to murder and aggravated robbery, as the victim's father looked on and wept.
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 who would not disclose if the murdered bride's husband would face charges.
"That is part of a different investigation. I cannot comment on that, police would have to to act on that," Ntabazalila said.
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 hijackers had thereafter driven off with the deceased and Shrien Dewani, with Shrien Dewani's consent, in accordance with the pretence of force, and not in furtherance of kidnapping and robbing him."
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 of subterfuge 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 blackmarket 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."
The bride was also robbed of a Giorgio Armani wristwatch, a white gold and diamond bracelet, a handbag and a Blackberry phone, according to the charge sheet.
Vinodkumar Hindocha, her father, who had travelled from Sweden to attend the case said he was the victim's next-of-kin as the couple had only been married in a traditional Hindu ceremony.
"I'd like to say thank you to the South African people for their support and thank you to the whole world for the condolence messages to our family," he told reporters in brief comments on the court steps after the hearing.
Since returning to Britain, Shrien Dewani has enlisted the help of the renowned publicist, Max Clifford.
© 2010 AFP