Sandeep Lamichhane (AFP file photo)KATHMANDU: Nepali cricket star Sandeep Lamichhane defended failing to return home to face rape allegations almost three weeks after an arrest warrant, saying he intends to do so "as soon as possible".
A Nepali court issued the warrant on September 8 following an allegation by a 17-year-old girl, but Lamichhane is thought to have remained in the Caribbean, where he was playing in a tournament.
With police believed to be preparing to file an arrest warrant with Interpol, Lamichhane on Sunday issued a statement on social media reiterating that the claims against him were baseless.
"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)."
Lamichhane, 22, had been a poster boy for the rise of cricket in mountainous Nepal, which gained one-day international status in 2018.
The leg spinner's big break came when he was snapped up by the Delhi Capitals for the money-spinning Indian Premier League in 2018, and he has since been Nepal's most-sought-after cricketer.
After the arrest warrant he was suspended as captain of the national team and the player pulled out of the Caribbean Premier League, where he was playing for Jamaica Tallawahs.
The social media post did not reveal his whereabouts but he is believed to still be in the Caribbean.
The teenage girl, along with her guardian, filed a complaint against the player earlier this month, alleging that he raped her in a Kathmandu hotel room in August.
Police official Bharat Bohora on Monday declined to comment on Lamichhane's latest comments, saying that investigators have had no contact with the cricketer.
"The police is investigating the rape complaint filed against Sandeep Lamichhane. The investigation is on a preliminary stage," Bohora told AFP.
The accusations against the cricketer come after popular Nepali actor Paul Shah was sentenced to two and a half years in prison this month for sexual misconduct with a minor.
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.
In May, hundreds protested in Kathmandu for tougher 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.