Shrien Dewani Found Not Guilty
8 December 2014, 11:33 | Updated: 8 December 2014, 11:37
Bristol businessman Shrien Dewani has been dramatically cleared of the murder of his honeymoon bride Anni.
Judge Jeanette Traverso dismissed the case against Dewani after roundly condemning the evidence of the chief prosecution witness.
Announcing her ruling, the judge said: "The accused is found not guilty of this charge.''
Giving her ruling in Cape Town on an application by Dewani's defence lawyer Francois van Zyl to dismiss the prosecution, Judge Traverso said cab driver Zola Tongo's claims about the murder of Anni Dewani were "riddled with contradictions'' and "highly debatable''.
The judge said the evidence presented by the prosecution fell "far below'' the required threshold.
She said the only reason not to grant the application would be in the hope that Dewani would implicate himself if he gave evidence.
But to do so would be a "manifest misdirection'', she said.
Dewani, who was finally extradited this year to face trail accused of planning the murder of his wife in November 2010, listened intently as key evidence against him was criticised by the judge.
Dewani, who can now return to the UK a free man, breathed a large sigh of relief as Judge Traverso cleared him.
He heard the judge declare that the evidence from the three criminals already convicted over his bride's murder was "so improbable, with so many mistakes, lies and inconsistencies you cannot see where the lies ended and the truth begins''.
She said the evidence of Tongo, who testified against Mr Dewani after entering a plea bargain, was "riddled with contradictions'', while others had lied on oath.
Members of Dewani's family wept and embraced as the wealthy businessmen left the dock swiftly via the holding cells. Anni's family bowed their heads amid shouting from the public gallery.
Dewani, 34, has always denied plotting with others to murder his bride, whose lifeless body was found in the back of a taxi in a rough township, on November 14, 2010.
Three men - Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and gunman Xolile Mngeni - have already been convicted for their part in Anni's murder, when the Dewanis' chauffeur-driven late-night tour of a township was hijacked.
Prosecutors said bisexual Mr Dewani, from Westbury-on-Trym near Bristol, had long planned to get out of the relationship to Swedish-raised Anni, and arranged the attack in which he would escape unharmed and Anni would be killed. But Dewani's defence team criticised prosecution witnesses and said the case against him was weak.
The ruling brings to an end a four-year wait for Dewani and his family to clear his name - a battle which has included lengthy spells in mental health units, lurid allegations about his private life, and fighting extradition from the UK to face justice.
Dewani has yet to comment publicly on the case since extradition proceedings began, three weeks after the death.
The decision to dismiss the case was a huge disappointment for the family of Mrs Dewani, 28, whose maiden name was Hindocha.
In a statement outside court, the family said:
"We feel really, really sad because we have not heard the full story. Shrien lived a double life.''
Last week the Hindochas begged Dewani to ''tell the world what happened the night she died'', with her brother Anish imploring him to take to the witness stand and tell his story for the first time.
Judge Traverso said it was crucial for the state's case to prove that Dewani entered into an agreement with others to have Anni killed. She said a defendant was entitled to be discharged if there was no possibility of conviction unless he entered the witness box and incriminated himself.
Tongo was the only accomplice witness, she said, adding that such evidence should be treated with "caution''. Tongo's version needed to be corroborated specifically where it implicated the accused. Details such as where he picked up and dropped off Dewani and his wife did not provide corroboration, the judge said.
"It is what was said during these events which is at issue and for that there is only the version of Tongo,'' she added.
She said the same applied to phone calls between Tongo and Dewani.
"This telephone communication does not in itself corroborate what was said during those calls, it merely confirms that communication took place.''
Dewani met Tongo in a hotel after the killing. Giving evidence earlier the cab driver said it was "nonsense'' that Dewani bought him a thank you card and gave him cash out of pity for what the driver had endured.
But the judge said Tongo and accomplices Mziwamadoda Qwabe and gunman Xolile Mngeni were "intelligent men'' and dismissed the prosecution claim that they would have carried out a contract killing for Dewani for "a few thousand rand''. The prosecution alleged that the men carried out the killing for Dewani for 15,000 rand (£830).
Qwabe is part-way through a 25-year jail sentence. Mngeni was serving life for firing the shot that killed Mrs Dewani, but died in prison from a brain tumour.