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Former Winfrey school employee arrested

  • Story Highlights
  • School Oprah Winfrey founded in South Africa facing abuse allegations
  • In October, academy's CEO said inquiry was under way
  • NEW: Winfrey on news: "Grateful" to South African police for their work
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(CNN) -- A former employee at Oprah Winfrey's school for girls in South Africa has been arrested as part of an abuse probe, police said Friday.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey cuts the ribbon at the January opening of her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Lungelo Dlamini, police superintendent in Johannesburg, said the suspect -- an ex-school matron whose name was not given -- is accused of physical abuse against girls at the school, including soliciting them for indecent acts.

The suspect will appear Monday at Sebokeng Magistrate Court, a court for family violence, child protection and sexual offenses, Dlamini said.

At this time, no other employees are being investigated, he said.

In a statement, Winfrey said, "I'd like to thank the South African Police Services for bringing this investigation at my Academy to a timely resolution. I am grateful for their compassion and sensitivity to the girls during this difficult time. It means the world to me. It is my deepest hope that the accused is brought to justice and that this serves as a reminder that any time a child has the courage to step forward, it is our duty as adults to listen and take immediate action."

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened in January. Winfrey personally selected the school's 152 pupils, all of them straight-A students from underprivileged backgrounds.

The students get free tuition, uniforms, accommodations and meals at the school in Henley-on-Klip, near Johannesburg.

In a statement issued last month, the academy's CEO, John Samuel, said that an internal inquiry had been launched based on an allegation of misconduct involving a dormitory parent. Video Watch what's going on at Winfrey's school »

According to an article in The Cape Argus, a Cape Town, South Africa, newspaper, the dorm parent allegedly grabbed a pupil by the throat and threw her against a wall, the girl said. Girls at the school also alleged the matron swore and screamed at the girls and assaulted them, the newspaper reported Saturday.

The newspaper said one of the pupils ran away from the school, blaming the alleged abuse.

The criminal probe was opened after a team of three American experts hired by Winfrey gave police the results of their initial investigation, police said.

"We came to the conclusion that there were criminal elements, and then we opened the case for investigation," Dlamini said this week.

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Dlamini said that the team of U.S. experts included Robert Farley, a retired Cook County, Illinois, detective. He said two American social workers were also on the team.

On October 17, Winfrey -- who has spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered as a child -- issued a statement saying, "Nothing is more serious or devastating to me than an allegation of misconduct by an adult against any girl at the academy." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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