Shrien Dewani.
Shrien Dewani.

Dewani’s PR man goes on media offensive

Time of article published Dec 20, 2010

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Cape Town -

At Max Clifford Associates in Mayfair, the lights are burning late this Christmas. The PR man is busy defending the reputation of a highly controversial new client, the British bridegroom accused of arranging the murder of his bride on honeymoon in South Africa.

Clifford, who became Shrien Dewani’s spokesman two days after the businessman flew back to Britain with his wife’s coffin in the aircraft hold, says the allegations are “untrue”, “ludicrous”, “hurtful” and “ridiculous”.

On Sunday, in what appeared to be an orchestrated campaign by Clifford, a number of Sunday newspapers published stories and video images which supported Dewani’s fervent denials that he was in any way to blame for his wife’s death after she was kidnapped then shot in the neck by two men near Cape Town five weeks ago.

A family video of the couple dancing at their £200 000 Mumbai wedding in October was released on the internet as part of the fight to clear 30-year-old Dewani’s name. It shows him and his bride Anni laughing and smiling as they dance together to a Hindi song - Pehla Nasha, or First Love - from a Bollywood hit movie.

Relatives of the wealthy British businessman on Sunday released the footage as they began a fightback against the “ridiculous allegations” that he ordered her murder.

One family member said Dewani was torn apart by losing “the woman of his dreams”.

He said: “He’s distraught and devastated, he’s lost weight and is completely shaken.

“He’s traumatised, he can’t sleep, he can’t eat, he keeps getting flashbacks.”

Images were also released of Anni holding up a box containing an Indian Barbie doll - a private joke between the couple referring to Dewani’s pet name for his bride.

South African authorities want to extradite Bristol care home owner Dewani, who was granted £250 000 bail in the British courts earlier this month. But his relative said the family’s faith in the system in South Africa has been badly diminished by “comments from people in positions of seniority, power and influence”.

“Shrien is not a monkey, a murderer or evil,” he added, referring to remarks by senior police and politicians in South Africa.

The family rubbished claims that Dewani had been involved in a previous murder in South Africa; or that he stood to gain from his wife’s life insurance policy; or that he was having a homosexual affair with a rent boy.

The relative said: “There was no pre-nuptial agreement, no dowry, no pressure from the family.

“They had dated, decided they wanted to marry and arranged their own wedding in India. Shrien wanted to have a family with Anni and plan a future with her. In his words, he has been robbed of his entire life.”

The case against Dewani is based on accusations made by taxi driver Zola Tongo as part of a plea bargain with the authorities over his involvement in the murder.

Tongo drove the newlyweds to a township where his cab was hijacked, he and Dewani were ejected and Anni - who originally lived in Sweden - was driven off and killed by two gunmen.

Now behind bars, the taxi driver claims Dewani offered him R15 000 rand to set up the killing.

“The taxi driver’s gain in this is a significant reduction in his sentence,” the family spokesman pointed out.

Dewani’s relatives yesterday said: “There are ongoing proceedings and we don’t want to prejudice this in any way, but the suggestion that Shrien was able to walk into an airport and 25 minutes after meeting a random taxi driver to mastermind a contract killing is, as his lawyer has said, implausible in the extreme.”

His friends and relatives also insist he made every possible effort to save Anni once she was taken.

“He was ejected from the cab and was in a township and didn’t know where he was,” they said. “He went knocking on doors and tried to summon help. Immediately he made efforts to contact police. When a patrol officer came along Shrien said: ‘We need to trace the car as quickly as possible.’ “

In an urgent attempt to track down his bride, he asked family in the UK to try to access the server of his stolen BlackBerry to retrieve the number of the taxi driver and contact Vodafone to help trace his and Anni’s stolen phones.

Although for legal reasons they would not comment on claims that CCTV footage pictured Dewani meeting Tongo some days later and handing over money, friends and relatives pointed out that if he had left the country without settling the taxi fare he would have been accused of failing to pay his debts.

They added that the amount allegedly handed over - R1 000 rand - seemed to be the same amount as a day’s taxi fare.

This week South African police said Dewani should go back to allow their courts to decide the case.

Max Clifford responded that his client is worshipping at a shrine to his wife at his family’s Bristol home and is receiving counselling for depression. The PR man has poured scorn on the South African justice system and claims his client cannot receive a fair trial. - Daily Mail

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