Dec 10, 2014 4:30 AM

Man cleared of honeymoon murder back in UK

The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) The wedding pictures are striking. Without knowing what's next, it's natural to feel a touch of envy for the wealthy young couple, all decked out in fantastic Indian costumes, their smiles perfect, their eyes (and their jewels) sparkling.

And already there were problems.

Shrien Dewani had been frequenting male prostitutes before the 2010 ceremony, and his bride in the days after their lavish wedding expressed misgivings about their union in text messages to her new husband.

A few weeks later, on Nov. 13, 2010, disaster struck. The newlyweds were kidnapped at gunpoint on the darkened streets of Gugulethu, a township near Cape Town. Dewani was released unhurt, but Anni Dewani's crumpled body was found the next day in the back seat of the taxi in which they had traveled.

The beautiful bride, a Swedish national with Indian roots, was shot down on their honeymoon, and the husband was charged with her killing, accused of paying a taxi driver roughly $2,000 to blow her away.

The tragedy came to be known as the "honeymoon killing." Prosecutors said Dewani a successful British businessman also of Indian origin was so desperate to get out of an unwanted marriage that he recruited a cabbie to kill his wife during a staged carjacking.

The mystery unfolded in stages. Days after the killing, the taxi driver and two accomplices were arrested. The charges included murder, robbery and kidnapping. It seemed like just another crime against foreigners in a dangerous part of a dangerous country until the driver, Zola Tongo, told investigators that Dewani had paid him to set up the hit.

Dewani was then arrested in Britain, but resisted extradition to South Africa to answer charges of suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.

That set in motion a long extradition battle delayed by Dewani's confinement to a psychiatric hospital in Britain and a murder trial in South Africa that ended abruptly this week when the judge found him not guilty.

The prosecution failed, utterly, to prove its case and Dewani returned to Britain Wednesday a free man. No charges against him have been proved, but it was not a triumphant homecoming. Dewani has paid a heavy price during his four-year ordeal, and Anni's family is threatening him with further legal action.

"We just want to know the truth," Ashok Hindocha, Anni's uncle, told The Associated Press from his home in Sweden, explaining why the family is looking at various legal options, including possible action against Dewani in Britain. He said their brief marriage was troubled from the start.

It has been a dramatic fall from grace for a man who seemed to have it all. His is a story of how a person can triumph in a legal sense but still lose almost everything, including his privacy and reputation.

Dewani did not testify, but he said in his court statement that his marriage was solid despite occasional quarrels. He admitted consorting with male prostitutes before the marriage and surfing gay websites, and characterized himself as bisexual. His sexual identity was seen as relevant to the prosecution's claim that he wanted to get out of his marriage.

In his statement, Dewani described a jet-set lifestyle, complete with hiring a private jet to fly his fiancee to Paris and a no-holds-barred bachelor's party in Las Vegas in addition to the wedding in India, where weddings often become fantastically expensive family showcases.

Dewani described the carjacking in South Africa as terrifying. He said he was ordered by the assailants to get out of the moving car as it sped away with his bride.

"The last thing I had said to Anni was to be quiet and not to say anything. I said this to her in Gujarati," he said in the statement.

The case against him fell apart in part because the taxi driver, Tongo who had already been convicted for his role in Anni Dewani's muder was not a convincing witness. Without a clearly established link to Dewani, the prosecution theory proved porous, leading the judge to dismiss the case earlier this week, long after the Tongo and his two accomplices received lengthy prison terms. One of the hit men died earlier this year from brain cancer.

The judge's dismissal opened the way for Dewani to fly home just eight months after he was extradited to face trial.

He hasn't spoken since his release, and he was whisked through London's Gatwick Airport into a waiting car early Wednesday.

He has friends and family waiting for him in Bristol, and his business running care homes to return to, but the notoriety of the case will be difficult to shake.

"It's going to be very tough for Anni's family, but he's been found innocent so you have to go by what the law states," said company director Colin David, 51, of Bristol. "If he's coming home, it's the right and proper thing. I just hope that he can get over his mental issues and get on with life."


Associated Press writer Martin Benedyk in Bristol, England contributed.


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