Murder of Anni Dewani: The bridegroom's story
The family of the man accused of having his bride killed say they find the logic of the police case incredible
Sunday, 19 December 2010
"Shrien is torn apart by it all. He has been robbed of the love of his life and is grieving, and now he must deal with all these ridiculous allegations," a close relative said yesterday. They deny he fled South Africa to avoid justice and insist allegations he conspired to have his new bride murdered are groundless. The police case against him is "flimsy", they insist.
Friends and supporters also launched a counter-attack this weekend to correct what they claim is a distorted and biased picture of the heartbroken widower. He believes the murder allegations are flawed and based on evidence from men "who have everything to win and nothing to lose from inventing a story", according to his supporters. They also point to claims by a lawyer acting for the two men accused of the murder that his clients were "tortured by police" before signing confessions. Shrien Dewani is being scapegoated by the South African authorities anxious to defend their honour and protect the country's vital revenue-raising tourism industry, they claim.
In his defence, they argue strongly that he was "deeply in love" with his bride and had no motive to murder her; that his lawyers have clear evidence to refute allegations he had homosexual liaisons with a German "rent boy" and are planning a legal action against those responsible for the rumours; that he did not flee South African justice but instead has made repeated attempts – without success – to contact detectives investigating the case, including going through Foreign Office diplomats.
Mr Dewani is extremely concerned and frustrated that the media cannot talk openly to the family because of constraints imposed by the legal process, relatives say. "As a result, we have been unable to challenge some of the reporting which has been totally inaccurate," a close relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He added that they decided to speak out in contravention of advice from family lawyers.
In a video of their Hindu wedding ceremony released yesterday, the couple are seen serenading Bollywood film love lyrics to each other. Anni Dewani is heard singing to her new husband: "Even if you don't say anything, I have felt a sense of love. I have chosen you, I have chosen you, I have chosen you." In reply, Shrien sings: "It is a new love, new excitement, what can I do with myself, this heart is wondering. There is love in my heart. Please tell me what to do. My first love, my first pride."
Friends and family insist the couple did not have an arranged marriage but were introduced by mutual friends. Their first formal date was a theatre outing in 2009 to watch The Lion King in London. Shrien courted Swedish-born Anni with visits to clubs and cinemas. She was also keen on ten-pin bowling. The couple would spend alternate weekends in Bristol and Stockholm. "About a year after they met, they just decided that it was getting serious and they decided they would talk to both sets of parents. Shrien then flew out to Stockholm to talk to Anni's parents," a relative said.
After getting permission, he flew her to Paris to propose with a £25,000 diamond engagement ring. He presented it to her balanced on a red rose over dinner at the luxurious Ritz hotel, where the couple stayed for the weekend, said her father, Vinod Hindocha.
Close friends and relatives described the couple as "madly in love" to the point of it being "sickening and embarrassing". They decided on a Hindu wedding ceremony in Mumbai and planned a civil ceremony in March next year to coincide with Anni's birthday and to enable friends unable to attend the Indian celebrations to enjoy the couple's happiness.
A family friend, Mrs Baljeet Marwah, said: "I was a guest at Shrien Dewani's wedding. We all had a fantastic time and were blessed to witness such a joyous occasion. The Shrien that has and is being reported about is miles away from the one who was clearly in love on his wedding day."
One close relative said the couple had arguments "like any normal couple", but that they loved each other enough to deal with any disagreements maturely.
After the Mumbai ceremony, the couple returned to England to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu religious festival and carrying out puja, prayer rituals connected with their faith. Only afterwards did they begin to plan their honeymoon. According to friends, they wanted to go somewhere neither had been before and South Africa was decided upon only after they realised the country's initials – SA – matched their own.
The couple took advice from a travel consultant and made their arrangements privately. After visiting a game park, they flew to Cape Town via Johannesburg. They chose to stay in the Cape Grace hotel after conducting internet research, but did not book the hotel's 600 rand BMW airport transfer service, opting to get a taxi from the airport instead.
Relatives expressed amazement and anger that police were taking seriously taxi driver Zola Robert Tongo's claim that Shrien Dewani broached the topic of killing his wife 25 minutes into that first journey from the airport with a man he had never met before, while she sat in the car by his side. "It would be funny if it wasn't so serious," said one relative. "What I find amazing is that Shrien was supposedly able to find someone who could carry out a murder so quickly on interest-free credit. He was allegedly prepared to do it without the money being paid up front and with little information about the victim and at such short notice.
"Utterly ridiculous," he added.
Asked why the couple were in the troubled township of Gugulethu where the incident took place, Mr Dewani said in an interview after the murder that the couple had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit at his wife's suggestion because she wanted to see the "real Africa".
The family was first alerted to the tragedy when Mr Dewani rang in a "hysterical state", desperate for help "He called in a panic from his hotel because the police station he was first taken to could not get an international line and he was desperate for someone to access his BlackBerry records where he had stored the number of the taxi driver. His BlackBerry had been stolen during the hijacking and he was desperate to get the police to act to find Anni as quickly as possible. He hoped the BlackBerry might be being used and it could be traced and used to find his wife. He was distraught and panicked, and it was clearly genuine," the relative said.
Relatives said they were unaware of any discrepancies in statements Mr Dewani is said to have made to the South African police about the circumstances of the hijacking. "He was very frustrated and upset. He was anxious they find Anni as quickly as possible. People who saw him said that if he was acting, then it was an Oscar-winning performance. He is not an actor."
His frustration with the police investigation continued after the body of his wife was found, according to the family. "He has repeatedly called the police directly or via his lawyer, and has even tried to contact them through the British consul in Cape Town. He has never had a reply."
They deny he fled to avoid further questions. "He was torn apart and was grieving. His father and father-in-law both travelled to join him and saw him. He didn't flee. They have always known where he was."
The Dewani family is reluctant to criticise the South African authorities and refuses to speculate why there might be a conspiracy to frame Mr Dewani for Anni's murder. They say their legal advisers have privately said the case against him is "flimsy".
His lawyers have been given clear evidence he was at a gym in Bristol and conducting a job interview when he is alleged to have been with a "rent boy". They plan to take legal action against the media.
Other friends and backers spoke out in support yesterday. One, Hetal Kotecha, said: "Those close to Shrien know that he is a broken, devastated widower who is now having to deal with false and ridiculous accusations."
They insist the allegations and insinuations are completely at odds with the man they know. The former grammar schoolboy is, they say, deeply religious . He was general secretary of National Hindu Students Forum at Manchester University where he read economics.
Margaret Stewart said: "For those of us who know Shrien Dewani and his family, it is hard to believe that the lost and empty man that they try to parade in front of the cameras is the same young man that only a couple of months ago was so elated and happy and very much in love and looking forward to the rest of his life with the woman he adored."
Privately, the family is concerned the allegations may also have an impact on their private care home business. Despite his own personal difficulties, Mr Dewani, together with his elder brother, Preyen, and their father, Prakesh, have visited some of their homes to wish their residents and relatives a happy Christmas.
The family's answers
Had Dewani been to South Africa before his honeymoon and did he have any connection with the men arrested for his wife's murder?
Categorically not. He had never been there before and had no prior knowledge of any of the men who attacked him and his wife. The reason they chose South Africa was because it was unknown territory to them.
Did he change his story about the carjacking, as South African police sources claimed?
No. He made one statement. But he spoke to a series of police officers afterwards, and that is where misunderstandings may have crept in. Some of the exchanges were heated because he was upset and frustrated with the police response.
Did he pre-book the taxi before to be sure that they were picked up the alleged conspirators?
Definitely not. He considered pre-booking the Cape Grace Hotel car. Instead he picked up a taxi at the airport. Zola Robert Tongo was chosen because he drove a Mercedes.
Did he hand money to Tongo three days later as payment "for the killing"?
No. He paid Tongo for being a driver and guide and nothing more.
What about the CCTV footage of the envelope being handed over?
The cash was handed over openly in a public area because Dewani had nothing to hide.
What about the claims he's gay and hired a rent boy, a possible reason why he wanted to dispose of his bride?
Clear evidence will refute the rent boy's claims. Legal action is planned to clear this up.
In order to believe the case that Shrien Dewani conspired to murder his wife, Anni, you have to be convinced that:
* Mr Dewani despised or disliked his wife of two weeks enough to have her murdered.
* That he wanted her out of the way for some yet undisclosed reason or stood to benefit in some major way.
* That having decided to kill her he felt it necessary to go all the way to South Africa to achieve his murderous ends.
* That he was bold, or foolish, enough to broach the subject of her murder with a taxi driver he had just met while she sat in the car alongside them.
* That she then did nothing to raise the alarm about their conversation.
* That the taxi driver, Zola Robert Tongo, is telling the truth and he was prepared to conspire to murder a foreigner at short notice.
* That Tongo has not changed his evidence in a plea deal with prosecutors to get a reduced sentence for his own part in the crime.