Bridegroom in extradition fight is granted bail

The British newlywed accused of hiring a hitman to kill his bride was granted bail by the High Court yesterday despite claims of new prosecution evidence demonstrating a "very powerful" case against him.

Wealthy businessman Shrien Dewani, 30, is facing a bid by the South African authorities to extradite him for conspiracy to murder new wife Anni, 28.

She was found dead in the back of an abandoned taxi in a Cape Town township with a single bullet wound to her neck on November 13.

Yesterday, lawyers for the South Africans cited the emergence of CCTV evidence and asked the judge to overturn the decision at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court earlier this week allowing bail.

Ben Watson, representing the prosecutors, told the court there was significant evidence which had not been put before the Westminster court that demonstrated a "very powerful" case against Dewani.

He said "the net was closing in" and Dewani should not be granted bail "even on the most stringent conditions".

CCTV footage of meetings between Dewani and Tongo, without Dewani's wife present, supported the taxi driver's account of the murder conspiracy, said Mr Watson.

Other footage showed Tongo "surreptitiously" receiving "a white, plastic packet" from Dewani three days after the murder.

Other independent evidence also showed Dewani had exchanged $1,500 (950) for South African rand at a currency black market where no identification documents, such as his passport, were required.

Two shop assistants had identified him exchanging money, said Mr Watson.

Clare Montgomery QC, for Dewani, argued that there was nothing in the fresh material and it added nothing to the summary of information already provided.

The payment of 1,000 rand (92) to Tongo was consistent with the normal conduct of a tourist new to South Africa with someone who claimed to be their tour guide.

Ms Montgomery told the judge: "There is nothing before your lordship that adds to the case for the South African government. There is nothing to undermine what we say are the, frankly, absurd aspects of the case advanced.

"Your lordship may regard it as at least improbable, even for an experienced criminal, to arrive at a foreign airport, to pick up a taxi driver of a different race and nationality and decide within an hour or so of making his acquaintance to recruit him, in a 30-minute conversation, into a plan to murder his wife.

"That would be unlikely for an experienced criminal, let alone for a grammar school boy who had never been in South Africa before, with no history of crime in any way, particularly when the supposed identity of the person he wants to kill is his newly-wedded wife."

Mr Justice Ouseley granted Dewani bail after ruling there was "strong support" for the submission that Dewani genuinely hoped police investigations would clear him and he would not abscond.

The judge said: "I have concluded that he has a continuing and realistic interest in making sure that he clears his name."

Mr Dewani's family welcomed the judge's decision to grant the care home owner 250,000 bail, saying in a joint statement: "We are all delighted that the courts have consistently upheld Shrien Dewani's right to bail."

South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said it would continue preparing extradition papers.

Justice Minister, Jeff Radebe, said it was simply untrue to suggest he would not get a fair trial.

Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym in Bristol, faces electronic tagging, home curfew and having to report daily to the police pending further extradition hearings.

He was held in custody after the South African authorities issued a provisional arrest warrant as the first stage to seeking his extradition.

The warrant came after taxi driver Zola Tongo accused Dewani of offering to pay 15,000 rand (1,400) for his wife's murder and ordering it to appear like a bungled carjacking as they drove through the notorious township of Gugulethu.

Tongo's allegation formed part of a plea agreement drawn up with prosecutors at Western Cape High Court in South Africa, where he was jailed for 18 years earlier this week for his part in the killing.