Fugitive cricket star Sandeep Lamichhane returned to Nepal on Thursday to face rape charges nearly a month after an arrest warrant was issued. Lamichhane, who denies the charges, was immediately taken into custody, Dinesh Raj Mainali, a spokesman for Kathmandu district police, told AFP.
Earlier Lamichhane had posted on his Facebook page that he was returning home to fight the accusations. "I will fully cooperate in all stages of investigation and will fight legal battle to prove my innocence. Let the justice prevail," Lamichhane posted.
Lamichhane was suspended as Nepal's cricket captain after a court in the country issued the arrest warrant on September 8. It followed an accusation from a 17-year-old that the 22-year-old had raped her in a Kathmandu hotel room in August.
Lamichhane failed to return to Nepal from Jamaica where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League. He has been a poster boy for the rise of cricket in mountainous Nepal, which gained One-Day International status by the world governing body in 2018.
The leg spinner's big break came when he was snapped up by the Delhi Capitals for the lucrative Indian Premier League in 2018. He has since been the most sought-after Nepali cricketer in international Twenty20 leagues.
Lamichhane last month issued a statement on social media reiterating that the claims against him were baseless, and defended his decision not to return to Nepal. "News of the arrest warrant issued against me... made me mentally disturbed. I could not think what to do and what not to do," he wrote.
"My health condition is gradually improving and I am planning to return to Nepal as soon as possible to vehemently fight back (against the allegations)."
Soon afterwards Nepali police said they had sought help from Interpol with a "diffusion" notice asking member countries for their cooperation in bringing Lamichhane back to the country to face charges.
About 2,300 rape cases were reported in Nepal in the last fiscal year, according to police, but rights workers say many more assaults go unreported. Only a handful of women in Nepal spoke out during the #MeToo movement and the accused have faced little or no repercussions over the allegations.
The accusations against Lamichhane come after the recent conviction of popular Nepali actor Paul Shah for sexual misconduct with a minor. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and ordered to pay his victim compensation.
In May, hundreds protested in Kathmandu for better laws and enforcement in cases of sexual violence after an aspiring model posted a series of TikTok videos detailing abuse when she was a teenager.