British-Indian businessman Shrien Dewani pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering his bride Anni Dewani while on honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010, as his trial finally got underway on Monday.
Speaking from the dock at a court in the city, Dewani said he was “not guilty” of charges of murder, kidnapping and obstructing justice.
Dewani’s case is finally up for judgment after he lost a three-year extradition fight in Britain and was ruled mentally fit to stand trial.
He was sent back to South Africa in April to answer charges over the murder of his Swedish-born bride who was shot dead on November 13, 2010.
Dewani, 34, is accused of orchestrating the hit by hiring three South Africans to kill his 28-year-old wife.
He denies the charge and claims that he and his wife were hijacked at gunpoint as they drove through Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township in a taxi.
Dewani escaped unharmed, but his wife’s body was found in the abandoned car the next day.
The three South Africans have been tried and convicted and are serving jail sentences of between 18 years and life for their role in Anni Dewani’s death.
The case has angered many in South Africa who accuse Dewani of callously using the country’s reputation for violent crime to murder his wife in the belief that he would get away with it.
Anni’s family said it has been “a period of torture” since her death. “All I ask for is the full story and justice,” Anni’s father Vinod Hindocha told reporters in Cape Town on Sunday.
Another family member, Anni’s uncle Ashok Hindocha, said they hoped the trial would help them get on with their lives.
“We are not going to get Anni back … but we need to know the truth so we can move on,” he told a news conference.
Dewani fought a long legal battle to avoid being extradited from Britain to South Africa, claiming he had mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress.
But an assessment by South African psychiatric experts found he was “not mentally ill” and “fit to stand trial”.
The prosecution is expected to argue that Dewani is gay and plotted to have his wife killed to escape an arranged marriage that he was pushed into by his family.
Contents of two statements to the police by Anni’s cousin and by a Birmingham male prostitute, and leaked to the media, make startling claims of Anni’s unhappy engagement to Dewani.
Anni’s cousin Sneha Hindocha in a statement cited by South Africa’s The Sunday Independent, chronicles a rocky 17-month courtship where Anni repeatedly felt sexually rejected by Dewani.
A 40-year-old gay prostitute, Leopold Leisser, claimed in a separate statement that Dewani was his client.
Leisser, according to the Saturday Star, also alleged that Dewani had told him he was getting married to a “lovely girl”, but he needed “to find a way out of it.”
The defence is likely to paint a picture of a happy newlywed couple.
It is yet unclear how many witnesses both sides will call during the trial.