The detective leading the investigation into the murder charge against Oscar Pistorius has been dropped from the case after it emerged he is facing charges of attempted murder.
The South African Police Service said, after the closing of the third day of a Oscar Pistorius’s bail hearing, that Hilton Botha will be replaced at the head of the investigation by “the most senior detective” in the force, Lt Gen Vineshkumar Moonoo, SAPS’ divisional commissioner for the detective service.
National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told press: “I have decided to assign this very important investigation under the leadership and stewardship of the divisonal commissioner, Lt Gen Moonoo.
“He is the most senior detective in the SAPS environment. This matter will receive attention at an international leve.. He will lead this investigation in collobaration with the provincial commissioner.
“He will lead the process of establishing a team of highly skilled and professional detectives. They shall continue with this investigation.”
She said the decision to replace Botha, who reportedly opened fire on a bunch of terrified passengers in a mini-bus in a drunken shooting incident in 2011, had been made after South Africa’s National Prosecuting Agency decided to re-open its case against the detective.
Before Pistorius entered court for the third day of his bail hearing, NPA spokeswoman Bulewa Makeke said charges had been reinstated against Hilton Botha, who testified for the prosecution on Wednesday, over a 2011 shooting incident because new evidence had emerged.
She said: “Is he going to be dropped from the case? I don’t know. I think the right thing would be for him to be dropped,”
She emphasized that it is a decision for police and not prosecutors whether to take Botha off the Pistorius case.
The shock revelation comes as Pistorius arrived at court for the third day of his bail hearing after being charged last week with shooting dead his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius – a double amputee dubbed “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre racing blades – faces life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder over the shooting of his girlfriend.
On Thursday, Nike also said it was suspending its sponsorship deal with Pistorius, following the charge.
The company, which has sponsored the athlete for the past six years, said: “We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Sponsorship deals with companies including a British telecoms firm, sunglasses maker Oakley and French designer Thierry Mugler are believed to be worth around $2m a year to the runner.
South African media said that since the charges were not hanging over Botha when he was in the witness stand, the revelations about attempted murder charges were unlikely to mean his testimony would have to be withdrawn.
The new twist caps an ignominious 24 hours for South Africa’s prosecution service.
Under cross-examination at the bail hearing on Wednesday, Botha was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius’ house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete’s home.
Lead defence counsel Barry Roux accused the police of oversights and slip-ups in their initial investigation.
Arriving at court on Thursday Jaco Van Vuuren, a friend of the athlete, told reporters that the defence team’s performance on the previous day had raised the confidence of Pistorius’s supporters (see video below).
Pistorius, 26, is accused of shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, at his home in the early hours of Thursday last week – Valentine’s Day.