Dewani: A case of trial and errors?
London - On Monday, the man accused of firing the bullet that killed ‘honeymoon hijack’ victim Anni Dewani is due to learn his fate in a Cape Town courtroom.
If he is convicted, Xolile Mngeni, 25, will become the last of Anni’s South African killers to face justice for her murder two years ago last Tuesday.
Only her British husband Shrien, who denies the police allegations that he planned and paid for his beautiful wife’s murder, is still undealt with.
Dewani remains near his family home in Bristol, fighting an expensive legal battle against extradition. But while he does so, it is in a court many thousands of kilometres away that some of the most important allegations against him have been tested.
I attended almost every day of Mngeni’s three-month trial. Now I can reveal how the trial has exposed apparent inconsistencies in the police case. These do not acquit Dewani, but they have prompted many more questions than answers…
ANNI and Shrien Dewani had been married for just over two weeks when their taxi was hijacked as it passed through Gugulethu on the evening of November 13, 2010.
It was about 10.45pm and they were returning to their hotel from a night out when two young men, at least one of whom had a gun, got into their silver-grey VW Sharan.
Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, grabbed the wheel from the driver, Zola Tongo. He drove for a few minutes before stopping to boot out Tongo.
Qwabe’s threatening sidekick – allegedly Xolile Mngeni, 25, – then robbed the Dewanis. After about 15 minutes it came to a halt at a remote road junction where wealthy businessman Shrien got out.
Anni’s body was found nearby in the abandoned taxi the next morning. The 28-year-old product designer had a single bullet hole in her neck.
Four men, including Tongo, now 34, were arrested in connection with Anni’s murder. But it is against Shrien, 33, that the Hawks have focused their investigative energies.
The Hawks have obtained, via plea bargain agreements, the testimonies of Tongo, Qwabe and a “middle man”. They all put Shrien as a killer.
There is also CCTV footage from before the murder which shows Shrien and Tongo talking together, alone, for a total of 29 minutes. Cellphone records have them talking for another seven minutes and also apparently communicating via SMS.
There is evidence Shrien swopped £930 worth of US dollars into local currency in advance of Anni’s murder – part payment, the police claim, for the £1 335 “hit”.
There is more CCTV footage, this time from after Anni’s death, which shows Shrien handing an envelope said to contain R1 000 to Tongo.
The South African police claim this was another partial payment for his help setting up the murder.
Finally, for a motive, UK-based homosexual escort Leopold Leisser has claimed that before the murder Shrien paid him for sex and confided that he needed to “find a way out” of his then forthcoming marriage. Dewani denies this and plans to sue.
Several of Anni’s bereaved family have chimed in that the Dewanis’ marriage was not a happy one.
Shrien’s lawyers insist all this can be answered innocently. But taken together with the incident’s questionable logic, the case against the Briton seems compelling.
However, Mngeni’s trial has revealed that the case contains some serious problems.
1. The “kill texts” that may not exist
Until now, one of the key pieces of evidence against Shrien has been the alleged existence of SMSes from him to Tongo.
In Tongo’s plea-bargain confession – the main evidence against Shrien which earned Tongo an 18-year prison sentence (reduced from life) – the driver claimed that on the evening of Anni’s murder Shrien sent him an SMS saying “the money [for the murder] was in an envelope in a pouch behind the front passenger seat”.
These “kill texts”, as they were later described in the media, are crucial to the South Africans’ case.
The truth is that the SMSes don’t appear to exist. Phone records revealed by the prosecution’s forensic expert, Dr Peter Schmitz, in Mngeni’s Cape Town trial show Tongo SMSing Shrien seven times on the evening of Anni’s murder and Shrien calling him twice, for a total of 109 seconds.
But they do not show Shrien SMSing the driver at all that evening.
Even if Schmitz’s data is incorrect and SMSing did occur, Mngeni’s trial was told by forensic experts from two South African mobile networks that they cannot retrieve the messages’ wording.
2. Shrien ‘begged for his wife’s life’
Qwabe confessed in August to being the man who drove Anni to her death. In return for a sentence of 25 years (reduced from life), the gangster claimed that while it was his accomplice Mngeni who actually shot Anni, they both carried out the murder on Shrien’s behalf.
But giving evidence against his alleged partner in crime, Qwabe was confronted with what he told police in the hours immediately after his arrest.
It was a very different story indeed. In Qwabe’s original confession, made on November 18, 2010 – five days after Anni’s murder – he made no mention of Shrien’s role orchestrating the plot. Indeed, he claimed that the Briton had pleaded for his wife’s life – hardly the actions of a man desperate to see her dead.
Qwabe’s original statement was revealed to read: “While I was driving, Watti [Mngeni’s nickname] was talking to them. I heard them pleading with us not to harm them.”
This was backed up by video of Mngeni’s first police interview. Just like his co-accused, Mngeni portrayed Shrien as a terrified victim who wanted only to save his wife and himself.
3. There may have been no plan to kill anybody
Mngeni’s original testimony read: “Once I was pointing [the gun] at them, they said: ‘Please don’t kill us’.”
Mngeni went on: “The white guy [Shrien] he asked us: he can’t, he can’t be dropped alone because this is his wife.”
Mngeni’s original police statement revealed another perplexing fact about the plot to murder Anni: it apparently didn’t exist. Police video from 8.16pm on November 16, 2010, showed the small-time drug dealer revealing how, having taken the Dewanis’ valuables, he wanted to kick the couple out of the taxi.
Calling his accomplice “Mawewe”, he said: “I asked Mawewe: ‘What are we going to do with these two? Let us throw them here’.”
His partner-in-crime disagreed and drove on. Mngeni said: “Then he stopped the vehicle. He then took his firearm and I thought we were going to leave. And he climbed off the vehicle and walked around to my side. He opened the passenger doors right behind me. And the white lady was sitting at the back, next to the other door.
“He then pulled a small bag from this lady and the lady was hanging on, crying and she was scared. Then I heard one gunshot. Then I asked Mawewe, the thing that is he doing, what caused him to do it? Then we started arguing. Then he told me I cannot tell him what to do.”
If this first statement is the truth then Anni’s murder seems to have been something rather different from the professional “hit” the police claim.
Could it instead have been the unplanned by-product of two squabbling thieves’ petty greed?
4. An almost comical amateurish affair
In court, Qwabe revealed how the plot to murder Anni was pathetically ill-planned. He said he and Mngeni never discussed the specifics of how or where Anni would be killed, still less who should do it.
Judge Robert Henney asked the self-confessed murderer: “There was no plan as to how exactly this person should be killed?”
“Yes, there was no plan,” Qwabe replied. He later explained: “We knew she had to be killed, there was just no planning as to how she was going to be killed.”
Judge Henney pressed him: “Without saying it to each other, there was just some sort of a – I don’t know – agreement, without you talking about it. Is that what you’re saying?’
The supposed “professional hitman” also revealed that after Anni had been shot he didn’t bother to check whether she was dead.
6. An unreliable witness
All of the main witnesses against Shrien have told contradictory stories.
The testimonies of Tongo, Qwabe and the “middle man” – whose identity the court has banned from being published – do not tally in numerous, potentially crucial, ways.
Tongo and Qwabe disagree on who sat where in the hijacked taxi; on who said what while in the taxi; on who held the gun. On payment, the witnesses are equally divided.
Tongo claims the “middle man” demanded R5 000 for his help while the “middle man” said he did it for free.
Qwabe claims he and Mngeni agreed to the murder for R7 500 each. But Tongo, who commissioned them, said it was R5 000 each.
There are many more inconsistencies. For Shrien’s legal team they are evidential gold dust.
Of all the evidence heard at Mngeni’s trial, it was the evidence of one man – or the absence of evidence – which could prove the most important.
Tongo did not take the witness stand, despite being the man who, on his own admission, organised the crime, despite being the only person to have met all the alleged gang members, and despite having agreed, in terms of his plea bargain, to testify and despite being available to do so.
Lead prosecution lawyer Adrian Mopp did not reveal why Tongo did not give evidence.
According to South African legal experts it could only be for one of two reasons – either the prosecution felt their case against Mngeni was so rock-solid that they didn’t need their prime witness, or Tongo has changed his story.
Mail on Sunday