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Durban - The comrades runner accused of sexually assaulting a Pietermaritzburg woman on a SAA flight from Mumbai to Johannesburg returned home to his family in Mumbai on Thursday night.
While police have confirmed the sexual assault charges against the human resources manager and first time Comrades runner had been “provisionally withdrawn”, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the man had not appeared in court because of an incomplete docket.
“The case was provisionally withdrawn for further investigation,” Gauteng police spokesman, Brigadier Neville Malila, said today.
“The suspect is no longer detained and can do what he wants.”
However it was reported in the Daily News’s sister paper, The Mercury, that the NPA confirmed that the man had not appeared in court because of an incomplete docket.
NPA spokesman, Phindi Louw, told the paper that the SAPS needed to explain his whereabouts.
The victim refused to comment.
Speaking from India this morning, Comrades ambassador, Amit Sheth, said the accused was not in a good frame of mind.
“Yes he has returned home to his family in Mumbai. It is a very difficult time for all of them. He wants some space to try and digest what has happened.”
Sheth said the man had appointed an attorney in South Africa.
“I have chatted to him on Whats-App and he said his attorney was waiting for a clearance letter from police stating the charges against him have been dropped.”
Sheth said as far as the man was concerned there was no investigations.
“His understanding is that there is no case. He said he was told by police that he was free to go home. But the letter will clear all of that in due time.”
Sheth, a seven times Comrades runner, said he had flown from India to Johannesburg on the same flight as the man on Wednesday.
“My wife, Neepa, (also a Comrades runner) and I were seated a few seats ahead of the man. In fact, there were about 20 of us from India on the same flight.”
He said neither he nor his wife heard any commotion or screams on the flight.
“There was a transit in Johannesburg. We stopped, collected our luggage and then boarded a flight to Durban. At no stage did any of these claims surface.”
He said the first time they heard about the woman’s claims was at the Comrades Expo, in Durban, last Thursday afternoon.
“A Comrades official asked my wife if she had heard about the sexual assault claims. She said no and told me about it. All of us were shocked.”
Sheth said that was the last he had heard about the incident until he saw the headlines in several newspapers on Tuesday.
“We are all upset by what has happened.
“We love South Africa and the Comrades. This has not created a good image for us,” he said.
“We all trained like crazy people for the Comrades. I find it hard to believe that any of our runners would conduct themselves in such a way ahead of such a big race.”
He said the man was married and a “regular kind of guy”.
“Right now I believe in his innocence. He has been cleared by police. Why would they let a guilty man go free?”
Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) race director, Rowan James, said the only time they could act or respond to the allegations was once they had a directive from police or the NPA.
“If it did happen we certainly do not support it. But until a court gives a verdict there is nothing we can do.”
James said he had spoken to the victim’s mother on Saturday night.
“I explained the same to her. I told her we could not ban the man from entering the race.”
He said if a directive came from the court, the CMA would refer the matter to KZN Athletics to which they are affiliated.
SAA spokesman, Tlali Tlali, said they had launched an internal investigation.
They were studying flight reports and interviewing staff, he said.
He said the victim had been given an option to lodge a criminal charge on arrival at OR Tambo International.
“Had this been the victim’s choice, the commander of the aircraft would have alerted the police to arrest the alleged perpetrator at the aircraft door on landing – disembarkation would have been stopped for the arrest to happen first,” he said.
“The option to report the matter to the police was presented to her again before landing.”
He said their internal security division did not have a mandate to conduct criminal investigations.
“The main focus of our internal investigation was the conduct of our staff on board the aircraft in assisting the passenger who was exposed to an unpleasant situation.
“The law enforcement agencies are responsible for criminal investigations and possible prosecution.”
Earlier this week the woman claimed she was sitting next to the man in economy class when he allegedly fondled her.
“When I was sleeping I felt a hand grabbing me.”
She said when she woke up she saw the man’s hand. He continued fondling her even though she had woken up and was staring him.
“I then screamed ‘what are you doing?’ at him. He got a shock and quickly pulled away afterwards.”
She said she notified the flight attendant and the flight supervisor moved her to first class.
The flight supervisor apologised to her for the incident.
She said the flight supervisor “Went to the guy and asked him what happened. The guy told the supervisor that he thought that I was his wife.”
The flight supervisor asked if they could meet, and she agreed.
“When I saw him he said ‘I am going to kill myself if you don’t forgive me’,” the woman said.
When she arrived home, she laid a charge at a police station.