The Honeymoon Murder Trial of British Millionaire Shrien Dewani Begins
Shrien Dewani looked like a broken man after the November 2010 carjacking that left his new bride dead. But South African prosecutors say he arranged it all to cover up a secret life.
LONDON—It sounds like the perfect murder. No one would suspect a British millionaire whose luxury honeymoon in South Africa was cut short by the death of his bride in a brutal carjacking. The country’s landscape is out of this world, but almost 50 people are murdered there every day. Anni Dewani looked like another unfortunate victim, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Her husband of just two weeks, Shrien Dewani, survived the attack and returned to Britain a broken man. His brother told the media at the time that the newlywed’s grief had forced him into a mental health facility where he was said to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. And who could blame him? His beautiful new Swedish wife had been slain as they returned home from a romantic dinner; she was still wearing a black cocktail dress, her Armani watch, and a $40,000 diamond engagement ring.
According to prosecutors in Cape Town, however, the entire episode was orchestrated by Dewani. They say he hatched the elaborate plot to escape a marriage of convenience and continue a clandestine gay sex life while ensuring that his conservative family never questioned why he was still a bachelor.
The alleged plot fell apart after an unlikely twist of fate. Although South Africa had more than 11,000 mostly unsolved carjackings last year, on this occasion the police caught up with the gang responsible. Three of them have been jailed for their part in the November 2010 murder, and at least one of the men has agreed to give evidence in court that the carjacking was arranged to order.
Dressed in a sharp black suit, white shirt, and dark tie, Dewani, 34, appeared in Western Cape High Court in Cape Town on Monday and admitted that he led a double life but denied playing any part in the killing. He pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, kidnapping, and “defeating the ends of justice.”
Pre-empting the testimony of a male prostitute known as “The Master,” Dewani acknowledged that he had hired prostitutes and met gay men at clubs and online. He said he had paid for sex with Leopold Leisser but denied the German’s claims, which were heard during an extradition hearing in Britain, that Dewani was desperate “to find a way out" of the marriage and that his family would “disown” him unless he found a wife.
In a statement read in court by his lawyer, Dewani said: “I consider myself to be bisexual. My sexual interactions with males were mostly physical experiences or email chats with people I met online or in clubs, including prostitutes such as Leopold Leisser.
“My sexual interactions with females were usually during the course of a relationship which consisted of other activities and emotional attachment.”
Anni, 28, who shared Dewani’s Indian heritage but grew up in Sweden, is thought to have been clueless about these secret trysts.
They met in 2009, before Dewani rented a private jet and flew her to Paris to propose. She said “yes,” although a series of quarrels almost led to the $320,000 wedding in Mumbai being called off. After Dewani’s bachelor party in Las Vegas, the marriage went ahead, but it would only last 15 days.
After dinner in Cape Town on November 13, the couple’s driver took them on a detour through a rough neighborhood in the city, saying he would show them a glimpse of the “real Africa.” Instead they were pulled over by an armed gang.
“I pleaded with them to let us both go. They refused,” Dewani said. “The driver said they would leave Anni at the police station. I insisted that we both have to stay together. They became angrier and shouted at me to get out. The one with the gun put it to my head again and threatened to shoot me.”
He said he was eventually forced out of the car through a window. “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.”
Dewani claims the shock of the events has left his memory hazy but he remembers alerting the police. The next day he was told that his wife’s body had been discovered. She had been shot in the neck at close range.
“At that point my whole world came crashing down,” he said. “The next thing I recall is that the doctor gave me pills in my bedroom.”
Zola Tongo, the couple’s driver, claims to have a far better recollection of what went down. He is expected to tell the court that Dewani had paid him $900 to arrange a fake carjacking from which his wife would not emerge.
Tongo, who has been convicted for his part in the murder, says he received one payment before Anni’s killing and a second after her death. Dewani’s defense team says the first lump sum, handed over during a drive without Anni, was to pay for a secret helicopter ride he was planning as a surprise for his wife. A second, smaller payment of cash inside a plastic bag was made during a meeting at the Cape Grace hotel that was captured by CCTV cameras. Dewani says this money was a form of compensation because the driver said he was being hounded by the media after the death of one of his passengers.
Video footage showing the car that night prompted Dewani’s head to slump forward for the one and only time during the first day of the trial on Monday. There were shrieks in court as the camera panned from Anni’s diamante-encrusted heels to her blood-soaked body, which was punctured by bullets in her left arm and her throat.
Her hair was blowing in the breeze.