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Tainted detective dropped from Oscar case

Pretoria: The lead detective in ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius’ murder investigation was taken off the case on Thursday after it emerged he was facing seven attempted murder charges for opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.

Citing chief of police Riah Phiyega, local media said Hilton Botha, who endured a torrid time on the stand at the Paralympic and Olympic track star’s bail hearing this week, had been removed from the case pending an internal police probe. He has not been suspended from the police, the reports said.

Charges against Botha over the 2011 shooting were initially dropped but the National Prosecuting Authority said they were reinstated on February 4 — 10 days before Pistorius shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home.

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

Phiyega said she did not know why the charges were reinstated.

It is also unclear how the latest twist in Pistorius’s dramatic 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.

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.

Sportswear giant Nike, which uses the famous “swoosh” logo, froze its contract with Pistorius on Thursday saying the athlete should be “afforded due process”.

Other companies with sponsorship deals, including British telecoms firm BT, US sunglasses maker Oakley and French designer Thierry Mugler, have declined to comment on their contracts while Pistorius’ bail hearing is taking place.

The hearing in Pretoria was adjourned and will restart on Friday morning, when a decision is expected.

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

Under cross-examination at the hearing on Wednesday, the 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’ version of events — that he fired into the toilet door in a blind panic thinking an intruder was lurking behind it — was plausible.

“The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.” Roux said in arguing for Pistorius’ release.

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