Cape Town -
Evidence regarding Shrien Dewani’s sexuality was slammed as inadmissible and irrelevant in court on Tuesday. Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso said because the British businessman had not only declared that he was bisexual, but admitted to a string of sexual encounters with male prostitutes, his preferences were not being disputed.
It was an explosive start to the fifth day of Dewani’s murder trial yesterday as the State attempted to delve into intimate contents of e-mails sent by the 34-year-old to a male friend. But it ended almost as quickly as it began, with the case being postponed at noon until next week.
In the stand sat Mark Roberts, a Scotland Yard detective who had pored through the murder accused’s Dell laptop, looking for evidence that might implicate him in orchestrating the death of his wife Anni Hindocha.
It is the State’s case that Dewani paid off taxi driver Zola Tongo to stage the hijacking in which Hindocha was killed during the pair’s honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.
Roberts’s investigation had found a series of e-mails between Dewani and a “third person”, who was not named to protect his identity. In total 53 messages were sent from this person to Dewani between June 2009 and August 2009, more than a year before Hindocha was murdered.
But when prosecutor Adrian Mopp asked the State witness to read out the messages, Dewani’s senior counsel, advocate Francois van Zyl, interjected.
“We will be objecting on the admissibility of those e-mails based on the issue of relevance,” he told the court.
“Yes, why is his sexuality relevant to the matter we have to decide?” asked Traverso.
Mopp argued that the e-mails would provide context for evidence submitted later and that his sexuality was an important part of arguing motive for the murder.
Van Zyl said the e-mails included graphic details about sexual interaction. Other topics included whether Dewani was going to “out” himself and his own conflicted thoughts over getting married.
“Why do we need all of this graphic evidence?” asked Traverso.
Mopp struggled to sway the judge who adjourned the court to make a decision. As she deliberated over the evidence, Dewani’s family sat speaking among themselves.
On Monday, Simon Johnson, a former employee of Gaydar – the gay dating website that Dewani signed into shortly after his wife was murdered – read out the contents of his dating profile.
According to the witness Dewani had described himself as single and gay and was looking for an “assertive man” to “train up young subs”.
But a further window into the details of his sexuality was shut on Tuesday when Traverso ruled that the e-mails found on his computer were inadmissible. Less than 20 minutes after he took the stand, Roberts – who had flown from the UK to testify in the case – was asked to stand down.
The judge’s apparent unwillingness to entertain evidence pertaining to Dewani’s sexuality could throw a spanner in the works for the State’s case as some of the high-profile witnesses on its list, which includes the “German Master” Leopold Leisser, a Bristol-based prostitute who counted Dewani as a client, were expected to testify on that exact issue.
By 11am there was already a new witness in the stand, Warrant Officer George Stefanus. The detective was on duty at the Gugulethu police station the night Tongo, the driver of the hijacked taxi, walked through the door wanting to report a crime.
The court heard how Stefanus had driven with Tongo to the scene of the hijacking before heading to the Cape Grace hotel where they found Dewani in an “emotional” state. The witness described how he had then taken a statement from the UK tourist.
Stefanus claimed to remember the events of that night clearly, but under cross-examination he began to falter. When asked whether Dewani had taken an oath after making the statement, Stefanus said: “The part, so help me God, did not come in there.”
“The point is simply that you didn’t ask him to swear to this statement (he had made),” said Van Zyl.
“(He) was emotional, me coming with so help me God, where was God at this time?”
The public gallery erupted into laughter. Hindocha’s family were visibly shocked.
“I hope that is not your attitude to the oath that was taken in court this morning,” responded Van Zyl, his face reddening.
The sixth witness was called to the stand shortly afterwards. Maria Bravetti, the owner of the Golden Touch, an antiques, jewellery and coin dealer at which Tongo and Dewani had exchanged money on the day before Hindocha’s death, made her way slowly through the court clutching a large handbag.
She told the court that Dewani had come to sell $1 500 at her store. But she didn’t have the funds to swop the large sum out for rands, so she sent a staff member to another dealer to make the exchange.
She confirmed that she had paid out exactly R10 200 to Dewani.
But Van Zyl said Dewani had arrived to exchange pounds sterling. The UK millionaire sat nodding in the dock. Bravetti said it was definitely dollars.
The lawyer added that an affidavit obtained from that same staff member said that she had been given gold to sell to the other dealer.
“She must be confused,” said Bravetti. After just a few minutes the witness was excused.
Mopp asked to see Traverso in her chambers and court was adjourned. After 15 minutes, court resumed and Traverso announced that the case would be postponed until Monday.
She said Mopp’s junior counsel had been suffering from chicken pox and had been unable to help with the case, making it difficult to round up witnesses.