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Originally published Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:21 PM

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Lead investigator in Pistorius case replaced

Hilton Botha of the South African police faces seven charges of attempted murder in a case unrelated to Pistorius.

New York Times News Service

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PRETORIA, South Africa — In the latest in a series of abrupt twists in the Oscar Pistorius homicide case, the South African police replaced the lead investigator on Thursday after revelations that he was facing seven charges of attempted murder stemming from an episode in which police officers fired at a minivan.

The change was announced a day after the investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, acknowledged several mistakes in the police work. He conceded that, based on the existing evidence, he could not rule out the version of events presented by Pistorius, the double amputee track star accused of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Feb. 14 by firing four shots through a locked bathroom door while she was on the other side.

After widespread news reports about the charges against Botha, Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, said at the start of a hearing on Thursday that he had just learned about them. The reports only compounded questions about Botha's work on the Pistorius case.

While the prosecution has accused Pistorius, 26, of premeditated murder, Pistorius has said that he opened fire believing there was an intruder in his home, in a gated community in Pretoria, and that he had no intention of killing Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate.

"The poor quality of evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings in the state's case," Pistorius' lawyer, Barry Roux, said Thursday.

On Thursday, a police brigadier, Neville Malila, told reporters that Botha was scheduled to appear in court in May on the attempted murder charges in connection with an episode in which Botha and two other police officers fired at a minivan.

"Botha and two other policemen allegedly tried to stop a minibus taxi with seven people," Malila said. "They fired shots." While the charges were initially dropped, "we were informed yesterday that the charges will be reinstated," he said.

Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told reporters that the decision to reinstate the charges was made on Feb. 4, long before Steenkamp was killed.

"It's completely unrelated to this trial," the spokesman said.

The Pistorius case has tarnished his global reputation. On Thursday, Nike became the latest corporate sponsor to suspend ties with him.

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