EMBATTLED Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and fellow detained soldiers are pleading poverty and face a huge battle to retain the services of highly qualified, prominent lawyers to defend them in their upcoming murder and attempted murder trials.
So dire is their financial predicament that Lt-Gen Kamoli and the other soldiers’ lawyers are threatening to withdraw their services if the state does not take over the responsibility of paying their legal fees.
As first reported by the Lesotho Times last month, Lt-Gen Kamoli joined nine other detained soldiers in pleading with the state to pay their legal costs.
The 10, who have been detained at the Maseru Maximum Prison wrote to the Acting Registrar of the High Court, Pontšo Phafoli, demanding that the state pays their lawyers because they would not afford to pay for themselves after incurring hefty costs in an ultimately fruitless attempt to stave off prosecution.
Their situation is aggravated by the anticipated lengthy trials they would have to undergo after losing their bid to be freed on the grounds that the cases have taken too long to commence. They also lost their prolonged bid to stop the recruitment of foreign judges to try them last Friday in the Court of Appeal.
After the pre-trial conferences that got underway this week, it is anticipated that the full trials will go on for at least 18 months and consequently they will be saddled with huge legal fees for the services of high profile lawyers that include King’s Counsels, attorneys and advocates.
Some of the prominent lawyers representing Lt-Gen Kamoli and other soldiers are King’s Counsels Zwelakhe Mda, Motiea Teele and Karabo Mohau. They have also been calling on the services of Attorney Qhalehang Letsika and Advocates Letuka Molati and Napo Mafaesa among others.
But they may be forced to turn to pro deo lawyers (supplied and paid for by the state) if their request to have the state assume responsibility for paying for the services of their preferred high profile lawyers is rejected.
Crown Counsel, Advocate Naki Nku, this week told the Lesotho Times that Lt-Gen Kamoli and others’ lawyers once again raised the issue of the state taking over their legal costs on Monday when they appeared before Zimbabwean judge Justice Charles Hungwe for the pre-trial conference on the 25 June 2015 murder of former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
Adv Nku said the lawyers pleaded with Justice Hungwe to ensure that their clients’ legal fees were incurred by the state because their trials would be costly.
“We however, counter-argued that that the state only incurs legal fees on behalf of the accused when the state has provided the lawyers,” Adv Nku said.
“The state provides lawyers for suspects who would have indicated their inability to pay their own fees from the start and not when suspects have already chosen their own lawyers and later say they cannot pay.”
Adv Nku said after hearing the arguments, Justice Hungwe reserved the matter to 21 August 2019 to allow for research on various jurisdictions to ascertain whether or not there were known cases of suspects seeking financial assistance from the state after having chosen their own lawyers to represent them.
When the issue of the state taking over the payment of Lt-Gen Kamoli and others’ legal costs was first brought before him two months ago, Justice Hungwe said the request was unusual. To the best of his knowledge, the judge remarked, the state only paid legal fees for suspects who had state-appointed lawyers. But in this case, Kamoli wanted the state to pay for his private lawyers.
“When one cannot afford a lawyer, he or she informs the registrar who will then provide legal representation under pro deo representation. The registrar will then choose a lawyer who the state will pay on the accused’s behalf,” Justice Hungwe said in June this year.
This week, Adv Nku explained that under the pro deo arrangement in Lesotho, the state paid lawyers M400 a day for representing suspects and prominent lawyers such as King’s Counsels, attorneys and advocates found this amount too little for their liking as they command much higher fees.
The Lesotho Times observed the suspects’ lawyers huddled together in a caucus meeting in the corridors of the High Court soon after their pre-trial conference with Justice Hungwe. This publication overhead some of them threatening to abandon the cases if the state did not assume responsibility for paying their fees.
In a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times, Attorney Letsika said they would decide whether or not to continue representing Lt-Gen Kamoli and others after Justice Hungwe rules on their request on 21 August.
“We will have to wait for the matter to be heard on 21 August 2019. Only then we will be able to say whether we will continue representing our clients or not.
“It is true that pro deo lawyers are paid very low fees and we cannot be expected to leave our other jobs to focus on these trials for such (low) amounts,” Attorney Letsika said.
Another lawyer, Adv Napo Mafaesa, also told the Lesotho Times that their clients faced serious charges and the protracted legal battles attracted huge costs.
“Even the government has sought financial support from development partners for the payment of foreign judges. The trials will run for a long period and these people (suspects) need help,” Adv Mafaesa said.
Lt-Gen Kamoli retired from the army on 1 December 2016 under immense pressure from Lesotho’s regional and international development partners who demanded an end to the impunity and human rights abuses that occurred during his tenure at the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
He was subsequently arrested in September 2017 on murder and attempted murder charges which include the June 2015 assassination of former army commander, Lt-Gen Mahao.
At the time of his forced retirement, Lt-Gen Kamoli is said to have received a multi-million maloti golden handshake.
But he is now pleading poverty, apparently over his mounting legal woes.