A British man pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife on their South African honeymoon, denying claims he hired a hit man to kill her in a faked 2010 car hijacking in a township outside Cape Town.
In a high-profile case that has enthralled the British media, Shrien Dewani also pleaded not guilty to four related charges: conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and defeating the ends of justice.
Dewani’s appearance in a Cape Town courtroom Monday followed a long battle to extradite him to South Africa from Britain to stand trial in the death of his wife, Anni. He had initially argued that he wouldn’t get a fair hearing. The extradition also was delayed by Dewani’s mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress.
Dewani was ultimately extradited in April and found fit to stand trial.
British tabloids have dubbed the case the “honeymoon murder,” and his trial comes on the heels of another high-profile murder case, that of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of culpable homicide for fatally shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Unlike that trial, proceedings in the Dewani case are not being telecast live.
Three men have been convicted on charges stemming from Anni Dewani’s death, including taxi driver Zola Tongo, who is serving 18 years for murder and claims Dewani paid him to arrange her killing.
A second man, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, admitted to planning the murder with Tongo to make it look like a random killing. Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, who was convicted as the triggerman, stopped the car in Gugulethu township in what the prosecution alleges was a setup.
Dewani’s lawyer, Francois Van Zyl, read a statement from the Bristol, England, businessman to the court Monday, describing the sequence of events, South African media reported.
He said after arriving in Cape Town, he met Tongo, who called himself an executive tour guide. Dewani gave him the equivalent of just under $8,000 in British pounds to exchange and asked him to arrange a helicopter flight over Cape Town as a surprise to Anni.
The night of her death, Tongo took the couple driving around Cape Town. Dewani said he was carrying a large amount of money in the car with him to pay Tongo for the helicopter trip.
Dewani said the car turned off a highway. “The next thing I remember was banging noises coming from the front and the right hand side of the car,” he said.
He said two men stopped the car, including one waving a gun in the air who ordered them to lie down.
He said they ordered him out of the car. He said he tried to resist, but “the one with the gun put it to my head again and threatened to shoot me if I did not get out.”
“I recall hitting the ground and the car speeding away. The last thing I had said to Anni was to be quiet and not to say anything.”
Her body was later found in the car, killed execution style with a single shot to the head.
At his 2012 trial Mngeni claimed police tortured him to extract a confession to the crime, but he was convicted of firing the fatal shot. South Africa’s Correctional Services Department has recommended his release from jail on compassionate grounds because he has a brain tumor and is unlikely to survive long.
In a statement to the court, Dewani said his “whole world came crashing down” when his wife’s body was found.
He described himself as bisexual, and said he and Anni had many disagreements and arguments but that he loved her.
“We really frustrated each other. We were in love,” he said in the statement.
At one point, she called off the wedding, sending him a text message that she couldn’t go through with it because he was too controlling.
The two reconciled and they had a lavish wedding in Mumbai, India, in 2010 before the surprise honeymoon in South Africa.
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