Top officer takes over Pistorius probe

South Africa’s top detective has been appointed lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius case, replacing a veteran policeman who was charged with attempted murder in the latest shock development to hit a case being watched closely by the world.

Top officer  takes over Pistorius probe

Riah Phiyega, National Police Commissioner, said a team of “highly skilled and experienced” officers would investigate the killing of Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius, 26, has been charged with premeditated murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend.

The decision to put police Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo in charge came soon after word emerged the initial chief investigator, Hilton Botha, is facing attempted murder charges, and a day after he offered testimony that damaged the prosecution’s case in Pistorius’s bail hearing.

Pistorius, an Olympic runner whose lower legs were amputated when he was less than a year old, killed Ms Steenkamp in the early hours of St Valentine’s Day. He claims he mistook her for an intruder when he shot her through a locked door in a bathroom in his home. Prosecutors say the shooting happened after the couple got into an argument and allege the killing was deliberate.

Botha acknowledged in court on Wednesday that nothing in Pistorius’s version of events contradicted what police had discovered, even though there have been some discrepancies.

Botha also said that police had left a 9mm slug in the toilet and had lost track of allegedly illegal ammunition found in Pistorius’s home.

“This matter shall receive attention at the national level,” Phiyega told reporters soon after the end of proceedings in the third day of Pistorius’ bail hearing.

Bulewa Makeke, spokes- woman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said the attempted murder charges had been reinstated against Botha on Feb 4. Police say they found out about it after Botha testified in Pistorius’s bail hearing on Wednesday.

Botha and two other police officers had seven counts of attempted murder reinstated against them in relation to a 2011 incident. Botha and two colleagues allegedly fired shots at a minibus they were trying to stop.

Makeke had said before Botha was dismissed from the case that he should be taken off, but added it was up to the police to make that decision.

Makeke indicated charges were reinstated against Botha because more evidence had been gathered.

Pistorius’s main sponsor Nike, meanwhile, has suspended its contract with the Paralympic champion, after eyewear manufacturer Oakley’s decision to suspend its sponsorship.

Nike said in a brief statement: “We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The judge is still trying to decide whether to grant Pistorius bail. Yesterday’s Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair asked the defence of Pistorius’s bail application: “Do you think there will be some level of shock if the accused is released?”

Defence lawyer Barry Roux responded: “I think there will be a level of shock in this country if he is not released.”

Opposing bail, prosecutor Gerrie Nel painted a picture of a man “willing and ready to fire and kill”, and said signs of remorse from Pistorius do not mean that the athlete didn’t intend to kill his girlfriend.

As Nel summed up the prosecution’s case opposing bail, Pistorius began to weep.

“He [Pistorius] wants to continue with his life like this never happened,” Nel said, prompting Pistorius to shake his head. “The reason you fire four shots is to kill,” Nel persisted.

Earlier, Nair questioned Botha over delays in processing records from phones found in Pistorius’s house following the killing of the model and reality TV contestant. “It seems to me like there was a lack of urgency,” Nair said as the efficiency of the police investigation was questioned.

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