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Investigating officer Hilton Botha sits inside the court witness box during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb. 20, 2013. (Themba Hadebe/AP)
Investigating officer Hilton Botha sits inside the court witness box during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb. 20, 2013. (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Initial investigator in Pistorius case dropped in light of attempted murder charges Add to ...

South Africa’s police head has appointed its top detective as the new lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius murder case.

The decision came after it emerged the initial investigator, Hilton Botha, was facing attempted murder charges.

National Commissioner Riah Phiyega says Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo will take over the investigation.

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Phiyega says the Pistorius case “shall receive attention at the national level” and Moonoo will “gather a team of highly skilled and experience detectives.”

She says Moonoo is the South Africa police’s “top detective.”

Botha’s future in charge of the investigation into world-famous athlete Pistorius came into doubt after charges of attempted murder were reinstated against him in relation to a 2011 shooting incident, when he and two other police officers allegedly fired shots at a minibus.

It was unclear why the charges were reinstated against Botha, or how the latest twist in Pistorius’s sensational four-day bail hearing will affect the athlete’s chances of securing release from custody pending his trial.

At the time of the taxi bus shooting, Botha - a detective with 24 years on the force - was chasing a man accused of murdering a woman and disposing of her dismembered body down a drain, local media said.

The charges against him were provisionally withdrawn but reinstated on Feb. 4 - 10 days before the shooting of 29-year-old model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in a locked toilet at Pistorius’s Pretoria home, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

“The decision to reinstate was taken on Feb. 4, way before the issue of Pistorius came to light or the murder of Reeva was committed,” NPA spokesman Medupe Simasiku told Reuters. “It’s completely unrelated to this trial.”

Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre racing blades, faces life in prison if convicted of the premeditated murder of Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

The revelation about Botha capped a troubling 24 hours for South Africa’s prosecution service.

Under cross-examination at the bail hearing on Wednesday, the lead detective was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius’s house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete’s home.

Grilled by lead defence counsel Barry Roux, he also had to concede that Pistorius’s version of events -saying that he fired into the toilet door thinking an intruder was lurking behind it - was plausible.

The bail hearing resumed on Thursday with prosecutors immediately admitting they had only just found out about the charges hanging over Botha.

Pressing home the defence’s advantage to argue for Pistorius’s release, Roux said: “The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.”

The 26-year-old runner denies murder and was more composed in court after repeatedly breaking down in previous hearings.

His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said his nephew was eating again after consuming nothing for six days and had spent much of his time in police custody reading the Bible.

The proceedings have gripped South Africans, who in 48 hours have become self-appointed experts on the finer points of police forensics and the ins and outs of the criminal justice process.

Schoolchildren have come to blows in playgrounds over the athlete’s innocence or guilt, and on Thursday “Hilton Botha” was a top-trending topic on Twitter in South Africa.

“We talk about the case every day. It’s all over the news. You can’t ignore it,” said Happy Ngwenya, a taxi driver waiting for rides in the heart of Johannesburg’s Sandton financial district.

“He must face his music but the thing is, here in South Africa, criminals have so many rights.”

With massive international media interest in the case against a global star, many South Africans feel the justice system’s apparent shortcomings hurt country’s image in the eyes of the world.

“Bring someone from outside to sort out this mess,” said businessman Godfrey Baloyi. “The whole justice system needs an overhaul.”

With reports from The Associated Press

 

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