Dewani urged to explain himself on the witness stand

British businessman eyes freedom after ‘ludicrous’ prosecution case

Saturday 29th November 2014 14:24 EST
Shrien and Anni Dewani

On 8 December a judge in South Africa will decide if the trial against British Indian businessman Shrien Dewani should continue. While the trial may be on the verge of collapse after defence lawyers signalled for the case to be thrown out, the family of murdered bride Anni Dewani has urged Shrien to go on the witness stand and answer the allegations against him.

Earlier on Tuesday, Anni’s family appealed for the case to continue, saying they wanted to know what had happened to her from Shrien Dewani himself. Anni's uncle Ashok reportedly said: "Shrien Dewani has said all along that he would like to clear his name. We believe the best way for him to do this is to go into the witness box and tell the court what happened.

"We want to hear it in his own words. We have waited four years for this to happen and it would not be right if he does not do it."

Prosecutors claim the millionaire, who is bisexual, wanted to be out of his marriage and arranged a "hijack-gone-wrong" in which Anni was killed and her husband escape unharmed. But Western Cape High Court judge Jeanette Traverso has dismissed sections of the state's case, describing evidence about Dewani's sex life as irrelevant, while prosecution witnesses have included men already convicted of Anni's murder. Shrien has refused any wrong doing so far.

On Monday Defence counsel Francois van Zyl began an application to the judge under section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act. It provides that the court may return a not-guilty verdict if the judge feels there is insufficient evidence to convict at the close of the prosecution's case. The application ended and the judge decided she needs two weeks to make a decision.

The trial will resume on Monday, December 8 when she will announce whether it is to continue or whether Dewani can walk out of court a free man. Defence lawyers told the judge presiding over his six week trial that the case against Dewani was "riddled with inconsistencies" and so "highly improbable " that he should be found guilty of any part in the plot to kidnap and murder Anni, 28.

Van Zyl spent the entire court session tearing apart the prosecution's case, built on the testimonies of 16 witnesses, poking holes in the evidence which provided little, or no link between Dewani and his wife's fatal shooting in November 2010. The prosecution alleges that Dewani recruited Zola Tongo to find two hitmen to murder his wife, only half an hour after meeting him for the first time. Despite, having never being in the trouble with police before, and having a good monthly income from operating a shuttle service, Tongo immediately agreed to help Dewani and involved another friend, who also had a job and no criminal record.

"How probable is it that this foreigner would arrive in this country and within half an hour ask him (Tongo) to find a hitman to kill someone," Van Zyl asked the court. Van Zyl continued to portray Dewani as the innocent victim of a callous plot. "What you have is a made-up story to incriminate the accused," he said, pointing towards the dock. "All the alarm bells start ringing.”

The wealthy care home owner was flown to South Africa in April following a nearly-four year extradition battle. He and his Swedish-born wife of two weeks were carjacked as they were driven by Tongo through a township late at night. Dewani and the driver were released unharmed, but Anni was driven off into the night, her body was discovered the following morning with a fatal gunshot wound to her neck.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo, who is serving 18 years for Anni's murder, has told the court he was paid by her husband to organise the murder. Van Zyl told the Cape Town court the state's case rested on Tongo's evidence. "The state's whole case was based on a conspiracy. Tongo is the pillar on which this case rests and if that pillar falls then the whole case collapses," said Van Zyl.

No evidence

Van Zyl told the court that Tongo had been hired by the honeymooners on their arrival in South Africa. When the taxi arrived at the Cape Grace Hotel, where they were staying, Dewani spoke to Tongo about a job "that will make his business grow", the court has heard. It is at this point, Tongo alleges, Dewani said he wanted somebody killed. The defence argues it was "improbable" that Tongo "virtually immediately" agreed to take part in a murder because he had "never been involved in any criminal activity. You have to ask yourself how probable is that within half an hour he asks him to find a hit-man," Van Zyl said.

"Yes, there was a conspiracy. Yes, there was a hijack. Yes, Anni was shot. But there is no evidence Shrien Dewani was involved."

In a 127-page submission to the court, Dewani's defence team argues there is "no credible evidence" that implicates their client in the case. It also argues that the state's other witnesses, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and hotel receptionist Monde Mbolombo, were "poor" witnesses whose evidence "cannot be relied upon".

Qwabe was sentenced to 25 years for his part in the murder. Monde was granted immunity. Xolile Mngeni, who was convicted of firing the shot which killed Anni, was sentenced to life in prison and died in jail.

Prosecution witnesses have included three criminals who admitted taking part in Anni’s murder, but who chose to testify against her husband in return either for time off their sentences or, in one case, immunity from prosecution. Van Zyl has already argued that the promise of reduced punishment may be considered an incentive to lie. Under cross-examination, two of the three witnesses have previously admitted that they did not tell the truth, either in court or in signed legal statements.

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