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South Africa: Husband arrested for bride's murder

Editor's note: This article is part of "Underworld: a global crime blotter," a semi-regular series covering crime and punishment around the world.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The arrest in England of Shrien Dewani puts a new twist on a crime story that has gripped South Africa and the world.

At first the murder of Dewani's wife seemed to be a story that preyed on the worst assumptions about South Africa: A newlywed couple goes to Cape Town on their honeymoon, take an unfortunate trip into an impoverished, crime-ridden township late at night and their taxi is carjacked by gunmen. The beautiful young bride is robbed and killed while her husband, forced out of the vehicle, is left grief-stricken and heartbroken.

But in a gruesome turn of events, Dewani, 31, was arrested today in England on suspicion of conspiring to murder his Swedish wife, Anni, 28, who hours after the carjacking was found shot dead in the neck in the abandoned vehicle.

Shortly after her murder, Dewani told reporters that Anni had requested a late-night visit to Gugulethu township because she had wanted to see “the real Africa.”

His arrest follows the sentencing yesterday of taxi driver Zolo Tongo, after a plea bargain deal that saw him turn state witness. Tongo, in a lengthy confession, described how Dewani offered 15,000 South African rand (about $2,165) for his bride to be killed, paid in U.S. dollars. Tongo was sentenced to 18 years on charges of murder, robbery with aggravated circumstances, kidnapping and obstructing the administration of justice.

South African taxi driver Zola Tongo convicted in Cape Town of plotting the murder of Anni Dewani. Tongo testified Shrien Dewani hired him to murder his wife. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

In his confession, Tongo said that he was waiting for fares at the Cape Town airport last month when Shrien asked him to drive him and his wife to the five-star Cape Grace hotel.

“After we arrived at the hotel, Shrien Dewani approached me alone and asked me if I knew anyone that could ‘have a client of his taken off the scene,’” Tongo said. “After some discussion with him, I understood that he wanted someone, a woman, killed.”

Tongo also recounted that on the night of the murder, while the couple ate supper together at a restaurant near Cape Town known for its sunset view, Dewani had checked in with him to make sure the hit men were ready. An attempt earlier that evening in Gugulethu had failed when the men didn’t show up.

Two men, Xolile Mngeni, 23, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, are facing charges of murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

The conviction of Tongo and arrest of Dewani follows weeks of rumors in the local media and rampant speculation among South Africans about apparent holes in the carjacking story: Why was the car abandoned? Why was Dewani spared injury? Why were there conflicting versions of the story? Why did he hire a publicist soon after the murder? And why had he not returned to South Africa to identify suspects?

The big question still to be answered is, if what Tongo said is true, what was Dewani’s motive for having his new wife killed? There have been rumors that Dewani’s family business was in financial trouble, and that on the plane to South Africa, Anni Dewani was in tears and refused to sit with her husband.

But through his high-profile London publicist, Max Clifford, Dewani has fiercely denied that he was involved with Anni’s murder. Clifford also said that his client had been trying to contact the South African police for weeks with no success.

According to Clifford, “all he wants is truth and justice to come out.”