South Africa blocks bail for UK murder suspect

A British man who allegedly arranged the killing of his wife during their South African honeymoon was in jail Wednesday following his first appearance in extradition proceedings.

A judge initially said Shrien Dewani, 30, could be freed on bail if he posted bail of 250,000 pounds ($400,000) but that was revoked when South African authorities appealed the ruling. It was unclear how soon the High Court would hear arguments on the appeal.

Dewani spoke in court only to confirm his name, age and date of birth.

Dewani, who has been accused of arranging the killing of his 28-year-old wife Anni, surrendered to police Tuesday in the southwestern English city of Bristol.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo, who pleaded guilty to a role in the killing, has agreed in a plea bargain to testify against others allegedly involved in the plot.

Dewani, a British citizen, has said his Swedish wife was killed when their taxi was attacked during a risky late-night tour of the impoverished Gugulethu township in Cape Town on Nov. 13.

Tongo said he drove the couple from the airport to their hotel. Once the wife was out of earshot, the driver said Shrien Dewani asked if he could find someone to kill her. Tongo said Dewani offered 50,000 rand (about $7,000) for each person involved, but paid only 1,000 (about $145).

British media have been speculating for weeks about Shrien Dewani's possible role. He told authorities the couple was returning to their hotel from dinner and had detoured to visit the township when gunmen forced him and the taxi driver from the vehicle. Anni Dewani's body was found the next day in another township; she had been shot in the back of the neck.

Neither Shrien Dewani nor the driver was hurt. Suspicions were raised immediately because the vehicle was not stolen.

The family of Shrien Dewani, who has hired celebrity publicist Max Clifford to deal with the media onslaught, dismissed the allegations as "totally ludicrous."

Clifford said Shrien Dewani maintains his innocence and is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife.

"He's devastated, and now all this on top of everything," Clifford said. "He's in a dreadful state." Clifford said he does not know if his client will fight extradition.

District Judge Howard Riddle, presiding in City of Westminster Magistrates' Court, had ruled in favor of bail, citing Dewani's strong family ties in Britain. Bail conditions included wearing an electronic tag and observing a curfew.

Ben Watson, a lawyer representing South Africa, argued that Dewani had a strong motive to abscond, and that he had access to large amounts of money and was an experienced traveler.

Clare Montgomery, representing Dewani, said the accusations came from men with "nothing to lose and everything to gain."

She argued it was unlikely, as Tongo claimed, that a murder could be arranged in an hour and-half taxi journey from the airport to a hotel.

"That is an unfeasibly short time even for an experienced criminal to recruit a taxi driver. It is improbable in the extreme given Mr. Dewani's background," Montgomery said.

The case has drawn wide attention in Britain and in South Africa, where violent crime is high but attacks on foreign tourists are rare.

As a result of his plea bargain, Tongo was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was expected to testify against the other suspects, including two South Africans who were arrested soon after Anni Dewani's body was discovered.


Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this story.