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Pretoria - National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega moved swiftly on Thursday to counter the embarrassment caused by revelations that the investigating officer in the Oscar Pistorius murder case is himself facing attempted murder charges.
Phiyega announced that Warrant Officer Hilton Botha would no longer be the lead investigator in the case following revelations that he faces seven charges of attempted murder.
She appointed Divisional Commissioner of Detective Services, Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo to head the investigations.
“Given the significance, the importance and the severity of the matter under investigation, as national commissioner, I have decided to assign this important investigation under the leadership and stewardship of Lieutenant-General Moonoo. This matter shall receive attention at national level in close collaboration with the provincial commissioner of Gauteng,” said Phiyega.
“He is the most senior detective in the SAPS environment,” she said.
Moonoo is tasked with establishing a team of highly skilled and experienced police detectives to continue with the investigation. Asked if the new team would be starting from scratch with their investigations or continue where Botha left off, Phiyega said Botha’s work would be used as the foundation going forward.
Botha’s charges stem from an incident in December 2011 where it is alleged that he was arrested for allegedly firing at a minibus taxi, along with two other officers, while being drunk.
Phiyega disputed the allegations of Botha being drunk but said they would be investigating Botha internally. But she refused to say if he would be suspended. “He was on duty when the incident happened and he appeared in court, but the charges were provisionally withdrawn.
“We are going to investigate departmentally and internally. At this point, we don’t know if their actions were (that of) police dealing with unlawfulness, or unlawful action on their behalf,” she said.
The charges were reinstated on February 4, 10 days before Pistorius allegedly murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Phiyega said Botha had done what he needed to do.
“The South African Police Service (SAPS) became aware of the allegations that surfaced on Thursday against the investigating officer of the Pistorius murder case. With the process of the bail application over, the SAPS are positioning themselves for the long-term investigation into the matter,” she said.
Meanwhile, a family from one of the cases that Botha had been working on have come to the officer’s defence. The Stratford family on Thursday told the Pretoria News that the incident involving the minibus taxi had to do with the investigation into the killing of Denise Stratford who was found murdered at an office park in Pretoria East.
She was found stuffed into a drain in 2011 and her car was allegedly stolen by a security guard from the park.
“He is a good investigating officer. We heard about that shooting because they were in pursuit of a suspect involve in Denise’s murder. He was doing his job as a police officer. He has been very open and professional with us regarding the case and we believe he is a credible investigating officer,” a family member said.
The family said they never had faith in the police service before the death of Denise, but after their interaction with Botha and the officers he was working with, they developed confidence in the force.
“We don’t want to comment on the Oscar case, but we just want to make it known that he is a good officer who was doing his job,” said the family member, who declined to be named.