CRISIS-HIT South African police chiefs insist the case against Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius has not been weakened despite the lead detective being thrown off after it emerged he himself faces seven charges of attempted murder.
On another day of extraordinary twists in the bail hearing of Pistorius, who denies deliberately killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, National Police Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega denied the removal of detective Hilton Botha had caused “embarrassment”.
The charges against Botha were only reinstated on Wednesday, having previously been dropped, and relate to a 2011 incident in which he and other officers fired at a minibus taxi carrying seven passengers. Botha denies he was drunk at the time. Botha, whose faltering appearance in court on Wednesday was widely perceived to have harmed the prosecution’s argument that Pistorius should not be granted bail, has been replaced by the country’s top detective.
“There is nothing embarrassing for the police. I know Botha. He is an excellent officer,” said Phiyega, who added that she could not explain whether the timing of the renewed charges against Botha were merely a coincidence.
“I wish I had a crystal ball. I’d be able to answer that,” she continued.
“We will look at the decision and act appropriately.”
Botha indicated he felt the timing to be suspicious, telling a South African news channel: “I can only think this is related to my work on Oscar Pistorius.”
The drama came on the day that sportswear giant Nike suspended its contract with the 26-year-old, who is nicknamed Blade Runner for his trademark prosthetic legs.
Pistorius is accused of murdering model Steenkamp, 29, at his home early on Valentine’s Day morning last week. He says he fired shots through a toilet door at what he thought was an intruder, believing her to still be in bed.
The athlete is set to find out this morning whether he has been granted bail or faces months in jail awaiting trial in a case that has stunned the world, after court formalities delayed a decision.
Pistorius’s defence lawyer Barry Roux argued yesterday that Botha’s statements had “exposed the disastrous shortcomings of the state’s case.”
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius was “bound to be convicted of murder”, whoever he believed he was shooting.