Indian-origin Briton on trial for wife's murder in Cape Town pleads 'not guilty'

  • AFP, Cape Town
  • Updated: Oct 06, 2014 17:13 IST

British millionaire Shrien Dewani on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering his young bride while on honeymoon in Cape Town as his long-awaited trial got under way.

Speaking from the dock, Dewani, dressed in a dark suit and tie, glanced nervously around court and said he was "not guilty" of charges of murder, kidnapping and obstructing justice.

Shrien Dewani, British murder accused, sits in the Cape Town High Court, during his trial, in Cape Town. (AFP photo)

The prosecution is expected to argue that Dewani is a gay man who was so desperate to escape an arranged marriage that he hired hitmen to kill his bride on their Cape Town honeymoon.

In a statement read by defence layer Francois van Zyl, Dewani admitted he was bisexual, but said he was "instantly physically attracted" to Swedish-born bride Anni (nee Hindocha), who was shot dead on November 13, 2010, aged 28.

"I've had sexual interaction with both males and females. I consider myself bisexual," Dewani's statement said.

Businessman Dewani finally appeared in court after losing a three-year extradition fight in Britain and was ruled mentally fit to stand trial.

He was sent back to South Africa in April to answer charges.

He claims that he and his bride were hijacked at gunpoint as they drove through Cape Town's impoverished Gugulethu township in a taxi.

Dewani escaped unharmed, but his wife's body was found in the abandoned car the next day.

Local media have reported that one of the main witnesses for the prosecution will be a sado-masochism "master" from Britain who will claim that Dewani paid him for sex.

Gay prostitute Leopold Leisser is said to have claimed in a statement to British police that Dewani had told him he was getting married to a "lovely girl", but he needed "to find a way out of it".

The three South Africans have been tried and convicted and are serving jail sentences of between 18 years and life for their role in Anni Dewani's death.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo admitted guilt in a plea bargain along with another man, Mziwamadoda Qwabe. The two were sentenced to 18 and 25 years in prison respectively.

The father of the late Annie Dewani, Vinod Hindocha, speaks at a news conference on the eve of the murder trial of his son-in-law and British businessman, Shrien Dewani, in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP/PTI photo)

A third man, Xolile Mngeni, was later found guilty of firing the shot that killed Anni Dewani and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tongo's claim that Shrien Dewani had offered him 15,000 rand ($1,300, 1,000 euros) to have Anni killed is expected to play a key role in the prosecution's arguments.

The case has angered many in South Africa who accuse Dewani of callously using the country's reputation for violent crime to murder his wife in the belief that he would get away with it.

Justice and closure
Anni's family said it has been "a period of torture" since her death.

"All I ask for is the full story and justice," Anni's father Vinod Hindocha told reporters in Cape Town on Sunday.

Another family member, Anni's uncle Ashok Hindocha, said they hoped the trial would help them get on with their lives.

"We are not going to get Anni back... but we need to know the truth so we can move on," he told a news conference.

Dewani fought a long legal battle to avoid being extradited from Britain to South Africa, claiming he had mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress.

But an assessment by South African psychiatric experts found he was "not mentally ill" and fit to stand trial.

Both Dewani and Anni are of Indian origin, from what news reports have described as devout Hindu families.

Anni's cousin Sneha Hindocha, in a statement cited by South Africa's The Sunday Independent, chronicles a rocky 17-month courtship during which Anni repeatedly felt sexually rejected by Dewani.

The defence is likely to paint a picture of a happy newlywed couple.

The trial is set to run into December.

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