Dramatic scenes played out at the Port Elizabeth Airport yesterday when a popular Durban televangelist at the centre of sex-abuse claims was handcuffed in the restroom and arrested for human trafficking minutes after his flight landed.
Shortly before that, an argument broke out between his newly appointed legal team and four Hawks officials, who were ordering around eight heavily armed Tactical Response Team (TRT) officers.
Hawks spokesman Lieutenant- Colonel Robert Netshiunda said the pastor, Timothy Omotoso, 58, had been charged with human trafficking and would appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court today. “There is a possibility of us adding more charges,” he said.
He said Omotoso had allegedly trafficked women and girls from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga Rocks, Kwa- Zulu-Natal, where they were sexually exploited.
The Nigerian televangelist is a senior pastor of Jesus Dominion International, whose headquar ters are in Durban, with a Port Elizabeth branch in Govan Mbeki Avenue.
Social media has been abuzz with the claims against the widely celebrated pastor after a television feature on Monday, in which the allegations were made by a number of women who have had contact with him during his ministerial work.
Omotoso, who arrived on a 3pm flight from Durban, is being represented by Port Elizabeth attorney Alwyn Griebenow and Advocate Terry Price SC.
An enraged Price was heard yelling at the Hawks officials just outside the arrivals terminal gate at the airport: “You will not arrest him here without a warrant.”
But a Hawks official, who refused to give his name, said they were merely following instructions. Griebenow said: “We had an agreement [with the Hawks] to bring the pastor to [our] office.”
Within minutes of the first passengers disembarking, police rushed on to the tarmac. But Omotoso was seen walking into the toilets minutes earlier, accompanied by a woman.
When the TRT officers ran through the arrivals gate, Price said: “Film this, film this. I want all this covered. “We had an agreement to meet the captain.
“They think they live in [Robert] Mugabe-land these people. “They are arresting a pastor with guns.” A growing crowd of spectators lined the windows along the arrivals terminal, cheering.
Eventually, the TRT officers made their way to the toilets, where the woman was dragged out first.
A handcuffed Omotoso followed, surrounded by the TRT officers. Watching nearby, Price said to an airport official: “We can’t have him being treated like this.
You are allowing them to beat up our client.” The crowd applauded and cheered as Omotoso made his way through the airport.
He was then put inside a police vehicle, which sped off. Griebenow said they had videos and documentation proving the allegations were false. Price said: “He cannot be arrested without an arrest warrant and, when I asked, they refused to show one to me.”
He described the Hawks officers as aggressive, arrogant and rude. “They are worse than Mugabe’s thugs in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“Since when do you arrest an unarmed pastor with eight armed men? He is not a danger.”
Price said he and Griebenow had been communicating with the Hawks and had persuaded Omotoso to come to Port Elizabeth to be interviewed.
“He did not want to come to Port Elizabeth because he thought he would be arrested, but we said it would just be an interview.
There was no talk about an arrest as he is not an accused, only a suspect. “We were there to pick him up, when these thugs suddenly arrived.”
About 30 minutes after being arrested, Omotoso was marched into the Hawks’ offices in Newton Park.
Speaking outside the office, Netshiunda said they had opted to pick up Omotoso under a heavy police presence after receiving information that his flight could be delayed.
“We couldn’t just believe it at face value,” he said.
“We took the initiative as the Hawks to go to the airport, only to find out that the flight was on schedule.” Netshiunda said there had been a scuffle at the airport after Omotoso “sought refuge” in the toilets.
“We can’t say he wanted to run. We can say he sought refuge in the toilets,” he said. A group held up placards supporting the alleged sex-abuse victims outside the Hawks’ of fices.
Pamella Mbini, 37, said Omotoso had allegedly been abusing minor congregants as far back as 2002. “They told us that their pastor is sleeping with them without their permission – they are scared to come out and say exactly what is happening,” she said.
The Jesus Dominion International website lists 27 churches around South Africa, with branches also in Britain, France and Israel.
The Port Elizabeth High Court granted an application late last night for the defence counsel to have access to Omotoso.
Price and Griebenow approached the court after the state refused them access to Omotoso, who is being detained at Port Elizabeth’s Mount Road police station.
By Lee-Anne Butler, Tremaine van Aardt and Michael Kimberley