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Thabanes not out of the woods yet – Mokete


…murder case against Lesotho former PM and wife may be revived

Mohloai Mpesi

Lesotho’s Former Prime Minister, Motsoahae Thomas Thabane and his wife Maesaiah should not be too relaxed as they are not out of the woods yet in connection with the murder of the former Premier’s estranged late wife, Lipolelo Thabane, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paseka Mokete said.

Although the charges against the duo were withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane this week due to what the prosecution termed ‘failure to secure a critical witness in the matter’, Mokete feels that the Thabanes have not yet escaped the charges pitted against them.

Lipolelo was waylaid on her way home on June 14, 2017 at Ha ‘Majane in the outskirts of the capital Maseru, two days before Thabane’s inauguration for his second stint as Prime Minister following the June 03, 2017 general elections.   

According to DCP Mokete, the stunt pulled by the DPP’s retain Senior Counsel and South African Advocate Gareth Lappan who was roped in to prosecute the matter earlier this year, means the legal battle is not yet over and that the case will, at a later stage, return to court when the unnamed key witness has been tracked down.

Lappan told Justice Molefi Makara on Tuesday that they were unable to trace a critical witness in the matter as he asked for the charges to be withdrawn.

However, Mokete told this publication in an interview on Wednesday that the State’s financial rough-patch cost them ability to secure not one but four witnesses, although the prosecution considered one as important.   

“When you summon witnesses you must have finances for their transport, accommodation, food et al. There is no money for witnesses, so people will be reluctant to come and testify. 

“What I heard is that the prosecution withdrew the charges against the accused persons because they cannot trace the key witness, not that the case is dissolved.

“You have to draw a distinction between withdrawal and discharge; withdrawal of a matter says the matter can, at a later stage, get back to court provided that the particular witness has been secured,” Mokete said.

He said the duty of the police is mainly to gather evidence which “…is nothing other than the evidence that implicates the accused to the crime committed.

“Then we hand the case over to the prosecutor, as to which witness the prosecution intends to call is their own discretion and that is not the territory of the investigating officer. That’s why they might as well decline to prosecute owing to the evidence at hand,” he added.

He told this publication that the news of the withdrawal had not come as much of a surprise as he had always been privy of the case’s progression and the possibilities even before the withdrawal was filed to court since “…we discussed the matter of withdrawing the case with the prosecution as a possibility.”

Asked who the key witness is he responded that he could not divulge their name.

“No I cannot tell you, I have to protect that witness. We are going to endanger that particular witness, especially because the case does not proceed because of them, we are dealing with very dangerous people here.

“This case is very sensitive, are you aware that there are two people who have died during this case? Are you also aware that there are witnesses that are regarded as dangerous (to the case)? If you remember we were opposing the bail application (of Maesaiah) because we felt among others that it was not safe for witnesses when she is outside,” he said.  

He further rubbished the speculations casted by the public linking Thato Sibolla who escaped death by a whisker as the key witness in question. He said there are more witnesses who hold watertight evidence.

“According to how I view the case, Thato Sibolla is not a key witness in the matter; she was just with the deceased. She is just an ordinary witness or victim,” Mokete remarked.

Sibolla was in the same car with Lipolelo when the car they were travelling in was pummeled with bullets where she escaped with injuries while Lipolelo succumbed to death.

“The case is very strong; we have built a very solid case. The problem is that cases delay in court; we finished investigations into the case way back in 2020,” he said.

He said however, due to the delay, some witnesses left the country to look for employment in neighbouring South Africa which made it difficult to locate them.

“It is a struggle to secure other witnesses. Some promise to come and end up not showing up. Some go out of the country to search for jobs; they cannot just sit here and starve just because they want justice,” he said.

Defence counsel led by Advocate Salemane Phafane KC and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika representatives of the former Premier and his wife respectively, received the news of the withdrawn case with elation saying their clients had always had no case to answer to start with.

According to Phafane, it was only a matter of time before the case was withdrawn as the crown has always had no case for his clients to answer.

“The crown never had a case, they were playing for the gallery, they were playing for the media and the public, and they were playing a political battle. Thabane had to vacate the high office as Prime Minister because among others he was alleged to have killed his wife. Subsequently, that had impact on his wife; look at the injustice they have suffered,” he said.

Phafane stated that the accused suffered an unimaginable torment and public criticism which impelled them to succumb to the public pressure, thus bowing out of their respective high positions, one as Premier the other his wife thus occupant of the post of office of First Lady of the Kingdom.

The former statesman was accused of ordering the murder of his estranged wife, Lipolelo, who would have assumed the role of First Lady, on the eve of his second inauguration as Premier. Thabane’s current wife, ‘Maesaiah, who had then assumed the role, was charged with the same crime.

Earlier this year, police investigating the case had expressed their worry that Motinyane’s involvement would likely ensure that the case was thrown out of court.

Mokete, who was then the head of the Criminal Investigations Division, told this publication then that initially, Motinyane stood firm in her objection towards charging ‘Maesaiah.

“We struggled to get that directive from the DPP to take ‘Maesaiah to court,” said Mokete who eventually forced Motinyane’s hand when he held a press conference on February 4, 2020 to announce that the only thing missing for them to charge Maesaiah with the heinous crime was Motinyane’s directive.

Motinyane has always avoided all attempts to have her comment on her involvement in the case, but has subsequently ordered for its withdrawal.

The DPP’s retain Senior Counsel Advocate Gareth Lappan who was roped in the matter earlier this year, told the court before Justice Molefi Makara this week that they were unable to trace the critical witness in the matter thus asked for the charges to be withdrawn.

“My Lord we were unable to trace a particular important witness and having discussed this with the DPP, the Director has decided to withdraw the charges and accordingly that is the application, that the charges be withdrawn,” Lappan said.

He said they have other witnesses to provide evidence in the matter but their testimony would not stand without the key witness they are unable to trace.

When handing down his judgment, Justice Makara stated that the court is propelled by the law as per the provisions of Section 278 (3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to grant the application as the section dictates that the crown has powers to prosecute or withdraw the matter.

“We are now at the point where the crown has unequivocally stated that it is withdrawing charges on the basis that it has hitherto failed to secure key witness to sustain its case. “The court consequently comes to a conclusion on the basis of the reasoning and analysis of the law, that the application to have charges against you withdrawn succeeds and you are resultantly excused from featuring before this court,” he told the couple.

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