Lawyers for British businessman Shrien Dewani are to question whether he would receive a fair trial if extradited to South Africa for the alleged murder of his wife during their honeymoon, a court heard.
Dewani, 31, from Bristol, is accused of hiring a hitman to kill his new wife, Anni, 28, in Cape Town in November.
The South African authorities are seeking to have him stand trial for the alleged contract killing.
Dewani, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression, did not attend the hearing at Woolwich crown court in south-east London.
But Ben Watson, representing the South African authorities, said they had been notified of the issues the defence intended to raise in the fight against Dewani’s extradition.
As well as questioning whether he would receive a fair trial, the businessman’s lawyers will also bring up:
• Prison conditions in South Africa
• Whether he is able to participate meaningfully in the proceedings
• A possible abuse of process and conduct of the case in South Africa and proceedings in the UK.
The date for the next hearing has been set for 23 March at Westminster magistrates court, which Dewani will be required to attend. The full extradition hearing is due at the start of May.
Dewani’s lawyer, Julian Knowles, indicated it was uncertain whether his client would recover in time for the extradition proceedings. He also told the court that Dewani’s ill-health had made it difficult for him to take instruction from his client. He said: “There are deeper and more fundamental issues arising in this extradition hearing, which we need to discuss with our client and we have not be able to do that.
“One of the issues that needs to be resolved is whether Mr Dewani is well enough to take part in these extradition proceedings.”
District Judge Howard Riddle told the court he had not granted Dewani permission to stay away from today’s case management hearing on the grounds of ill-health.
He allowed him to be absent only after being told that progress could be made in the case without him being there, he said.
A timetable for the case was set. The South African government will respond to the defence’s arguments on 20 April. A three-day extradition hearing will take place from 3-5 May.
Anni Dewani, from Sweden, was shot when the couple’s taxi was apparently hijacked in the Gugulethu township on the outskirts of Cape Town on 13 November.
She was found dead in the back of an abandoned cab with a bullet wound to her neck. Cab driver Zola Tongo and Shrien Dewani told police they were ejected from the vehicle before Anni Dewani was driven away and killed.
In a plea bargain with the South African authorities, Tongo later claimed Dewani offered him 15,000 rand (£1,400) for the killing. Tongo, 31, was sentenced to 18 years in jail for murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and perverting the course of justice.
Two other men, Xolile Mnguni, 23, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 25, are accused of being the hitmen. They are charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery with aggravating circumstances and are to appear before Wynberg regional court on 25 February.
The South African authorities have requested that Shrien Dewani be extradited from the UK to answer allegations in court.
Before the hearing the father of Anni Dewani questioned whether Shrien Dewani really was too sick to appear in court.
Vinod Hindocha was quoted in the Cape Times alleging Dewani had been spotted eating out in restaurants. Hindocha, from Mariestad in Sweden, said: “When you can go to restaurants to have meals, you can’t be sick.” However, friends and family of Dewani have expressed concerns about his failing health.
A close family friend told the Observer: “This is a guy who is completely devastated, a shadow of his former self. Anybody who has seen him is shocked by his appearance. You have to remember this is someone who has been widowed at the age of 30, two weeks after he was married.
“He’s fragile and unable to sleep because of the recurring flashbacks of having a gun put to his head and then his wife is driven off. As a family even we still can’t fully comprehend what must be going on his mind. He is taking therapy but we are worried.”