Fury over claim newlywed paid for bride killing

The family of a British man accused of paying to have his new wife murdered on honeymoon in South Africa dismissed the claims as "totally ludicrous" yesterday.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo said Shrien Dewani, 31, offered 1,300 for the killing of 28-year-old Anni, just hours after the couple arrived in the country.

Mrs Dewani was shot dead by gunmen a day later as the couple were driven through the impoverished Gugulethu township in Cape Town.

Tongo's dramatic allegation formed part of a plea agreement drawn up with prosecutors at Cape High Court, where he was jailed for 18 years for his part in the killing on November 13.

Mr Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, returned to England after the murder.

He has always denied that he had any involvement in his wife's death.

In a statement the Dewani family said: "Shrien is totally innocent of any involvement in this heinous crime.

"These allegations are totally ludicrous and very hurtful to a young man who is grieving the loss of the woman he loved, his chosen life partner.

"South African police have never sought to speak to Shrien regarding the allegations. Instead, two weeks have been spent negotiating this confession from the taxi driver while the two others accused have complained of torture and false confessions."

But authorities have not ruled out making an extradition request for Mr Dewani's return to South Africa.

In his formal admission, 31-year-old Tongo said he was waiting for fares at Cape Town International Airport when Mr Dewani asked to be driven to the five-star Cape Grace hotel where he allegedly offered 1,300 (15,000 rand) to "have a client of his taken off the scene".

The "hijacking" was arranged with the help of two hitmen, Xolile Mnguni and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, both from Khayelitsha, for the next evening, he said.

Tongo claimed he was ordered out of the car when the hitmen struck.

"They then drove off with Shrien Dewani and the deceased still in the vehicle," he said.

"I knew that (the hitmen) would not harm Shrien Dewani and that he would be dropped off at some further point. I also knew that the deceased would be kidnapped, robbed and murdered ... after Shrien Dewani had been ejected from the vehicle in accordance with the plan."

During their trip, prosecutors said, Tongo even sent Mr Dewani a text message reminding him not to forget about the money stashed in an envelope behind the front passenger seat.

Western Cape director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock told Judge President John Hlophe: "The alleged hijacking was in fact not a hijacking but part of a plan of subterfuge which Shrien Dewani, the husband of the deceased, and the accused had designed to conceal the true facts, to wit that the deceased was murdered at the insistence of her husband."

The couple, who are understood to have met when relatives introduced them in England 15 months earlier, had been married for just a fortnight.

Mrs Dewani's father, Vinod Hindocha, struggled to contain his grief during the hearing and left the packed courtroom with tears in his eyes.

Speaking outside court, he said: "I'd like to say thank you to the South African people for their support and thank you for the whole world for the condolence messages to our family through email, through Facebook, postal."

Mr Hindocha, who is based in Sweden and was consulted by prosecutors on the plea bargain, was accompanied by a brother-in-law and his brother Ashok, who added: "We have been treated well in South Africa by the police, and we are very, very confident about everything here.

"Our wish to all the (people) involved is to please end this case as soon as possible. That includes the Swedish authority, the British authority, the South African authority. "Because every day till this case ends is a torture for us. So please ... don't delay."

A spokesman for South Africa's national prosecuting office said a bid to request Mr Dewani's extradition was "a matter that is likely to be considered" as part of continuing investigations. "Based on what happened in court today, obviously the investigations are going to intensify," he said.

Mnguni, 23, and Qwabe, 25, will remain in custody until they appear at Wynberg Regional Court on February 25 to face charges of murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

They are due to go on trial at Western Cape High Court at a later date.

Tongo – who was charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and perverting the course of justice – is expected to testify against them.

CLIFFORD HITS OUT AT INVESTIGATORS

Shrien Dewani's spokesman Max Clifford yesterday described the accusations as the latest in a string of false allegations.

He said the Dewani family had tried to contact the South African police to find out why the accusations were happening despite a police statement saying Mr Dewani was not a suspect.

He said efforts by the family, the British High Commission and Mr Dewani's lawyers in South Africa to contact the police had failed.

He added: "The South African police haven't contacted him, accused him of anything at all. There's been no contact from them or the South African prosecutors, even though we read in the papers that they've been questioning him daily."