Friday 24 February 2017

Husband in murder case attempts to clear name

Agent Clifford leading strategy to end 'smears' against Dewani

Mark Townsend in London

THE family of a millionaire accused of plotting to murder his wife on honeymoon are launching a counter-offensive today to clear his name after what they believe is a smear campaign by the South African authorities.

Max Clifford, the publicity agent, is orchestrating the strategy to defend the reputation of Shrien Dewani, a 30-year-old businessman from Bristol, England, who is accused of paying hitmen to kill his bride, Anni, in a staged carjacking near Cape Town.

Mr Dewani's family is releasing a video of the couple's first dance at their wedding in Mumbai last month, two weeks before Anni, who was 28 and from Sweden, was murdered. The footage shows the newlyweds embracing and smiling fondly during the song, 'Pehla Nasha', which means "my first true love".

Its release follows allegations that, on their honeymoon, Mr Dewani masterminded the killing of his wife in Gugulethu, a notorious South African township. Several suspects have alleged that Mr Dewani paid hitmen.

However, a close family member said there had been so many lies issued by the South African authorities since Anni's murder on November 13 that it was absurd her husband should now stand trial.

"There have been so many untruths it's been unbearable," the relative said.

He was speaking the day after South African police commissioner Bheki Cele -- who has branded Mr Dewani a "monkey", prompting claims of racial undertones -- expressed his belief that the state will succeed in having him extradited. The family say no official extradition request has been served and that South African authorities have shunned offers of co-operation from them.

New details of the couple's relationship emerged yesterday, including that Mr Dewani is carrying an Indian Barbie doll that he bought Anni as a gift everywhere he goes. "Shrien clings onto this doll as one of the last memories of Anni. Shrien used to refer to her as 'his Barbie' as she, like the doll, used to love dressing up," the relative said.

He said the couple were deeply in love and reiterated the family's explanation for choosing South Africa as a honeymoon destination: simply that S and A were the couple's initials.

The family is also keen to deny several allegations relating to the murder, among them claims that the crime was financially motivated because Mr Dewani had recent cashflow difficulties.

"There is no motive. There is no life policy, there is no will, there is no financial motive. The civil marriage hasn't even happened yet because the plan was to go to Sweden in March for the civil marriage," the relative said.

He added that the prosecution case centred on a sequence of events that meant Mr Dewani would have had to arrange a hit with a stranger 25 minutes after landing at Cape Town.

"He had made no bookings with taxi drivers before he landed. He pushed the trolleys out and approached all three drivers saying he wanted to go to the Cape Grace hotel."

The relative cited local reporters who tried to mimic the planned hit but were told it would take two weeks to organise and they would have to pay up front.

"It is alleged that Shrien organised this in 25 minutes on interest-free credit and also managed a discount."

The family also question how the taxi driver had pleaded penury and yet found the funds for a private lawyer. "He gave two sworn affidavits to the police saying this was a normal hijacking, then later gave a different account after appointing a privately funded lawyer to negotiate a plea bargain," said the relative.

South African police believe Anni may have been shot accidentally as her abductors argued over whether to rape her. They say the ballistics report concluded that the angle at which a single bullet entered her neck suggested the fatal shot was not fired deliberately.

The lack of an "execution wound" is, according to Mr Dewani's supporters, compelling proof that there was no organised hit.

Cape Town detectives have also investigated whether Mr Dewani, who remains on £250,000 (€294,000) bail, was involved in the 2007 murder of a respected doctor, Pox Raghavjee in King William's Town, 650 miles from Cape Town.

At the time, police ruled out robbery as a motive because neither his car nor valuables were taken.

However, Mr Dewani's family say he had never met Mr Raghavjee and that his passport proves he had never been to South Africa before.

The family deny claims that there was another woman involved and also claims that Mr Dewani was gay. Reports last week said a South African male prostitute had come forward to allege Mr Dewani had regularly him paid for sex.

© Observer

Sunday Independent

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