THERE was drama at the Maseru Magistrates’ Court on Monday when the mother of fraud-accused businessman, Makhetha Thaele, collapsed upon seeing her son in chains.
Ms Thaele had to be carried out of the courtroom before the start the proceedings by well-wishers who had also come to attend the bail hearing.
Mr Thaele is one of the suspects in a case where the government was allegedly defrauded of M17 million. He is charged alongside Police Constable (PC) Mokone Bereng, Abiele Moletsane (former Standard Lesotho Bank employee), businessman Thabiso Mapetla as well as Joel Lerotholi and ’Mamothibeli Piti who are both employed at the Standard Lesotho Bank.
The charge sheet states that the six accused are “charged with contravening Section 57 (1) (2) (a) of the Penal Code Act No. 6 of 2010 read with Section 109 in that upon or about October 2018, the accused did, acting with common purpose, unlawfully stole money belonging to the Lesotho government to the tune of M17 million by transferring it electronically to their different bank accounts”.
PC Bereng, Mr Moletsane and Ms Piti first appeared before the same court on 12 November this year with Mr Lerotholi joining them on 16 November. Messrs Thaele and Mapetla first appeared before the court on Monday.
The five male suspects arrived at Magistrate Court on Tuesday morning in chains. Four of the suspects were chained together in pairs while the fifth suspect was shackled on both feet and hands.
There was also heavily armed Lesotho Correctional Services personnel which had escorted the accused to court.
On Tuesday Magistrate Peter Murenzi, who presided over the case, said he was deferring PC Bereng, Mr Moletsane and Ms Piti’s bail ruling to Friday to consolidate their applications with those of other co-accused persons who were later brought to court.
“I had a bail application on Friday (16 November) but while fine-tuning the ruling, there were some developments which are an addition of defendants,” Mr Murenzi said.
“The first applicants are expecting a ruling today but since there are new bail applications, I should consolidate the applications as one therefore the matter is stood down to 23 November.”
One of the defence lawyers, Advocate Molise Molise, representing Messrs Thaele and Mapetla, argued that his clients should be granted bail as it was their constitutional right and they are not in a position to abscond their trial as they have huge investments in the country.
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“The starting point in bail application is that the court will grant bail unless the bail is likely to prejudice the ends of justice. Section 12 of the Constitution states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty therefore my clients have not been found guilty as yet therefore should be granted bail.
“Mr Thaele cooperated with the police at the time of his arrest, detention, until being remanded yesterday before this court. He is a family man with two kids and a wife who depend on him for survival. He is a Mosotho businessman, successfully operating Lithabaneng Filling Station and Braamfontein Filling Station as well as an accounting firm. He also has a home in Masowe III valued at M3 500 000.
“Similarly, Mr Mapetla is a construction businessman with two children and wife as well who depend on him for support. He has a home in Lithabaneng valued at M1, 5 million. My clients are not in a position to abscond and will be available to stand trial therefore I pray that they be granted bail,” Adv Molise said.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli recently told the Lesotho Times’ sister paper, the Sunday Express, that the accused allegedly defrauded the government of M17 million and some motor dealers of amounts in the region of over a million maloti through fraudulent purchases.
“The accused defrauded the sub-accountancy department (of the Ministry of Finance) in Leribe of an estimated M17 million by hacking into its system,” Supt Mopeli said, adding, “They then went on to purchase some vehicles at various car dealers where they paid through electronic transfers”.
“They always paid money exceeding the actual price of their purchase and then later claimed they had erred and demanded to rectify their mistake and demanded the excess in cash in the process,” Sup Mopeli said.
The transactions are said to have occurred in October this year and the suspects allegedly deposited the ill-gotten funds into three different accounts which they had opened under false identities in South Africa.
Supt Mopeli further said they had recovered a Prado vehicle from PC Bereng which costs M130 000.
“Investigations to track the other eight cars are ongoing and these include a BMW 120i worth M122 000, a Honda Elision (M54 000), an Audi A3 (M77 000), two Mercedes Vianos (one valued at M165 000 and the other at M195 000) and three Mercedes Benz C200 vehicles (two of them valued at M160 000 and the other M165 000).”
The car dealers who were allegedly defrauded by the suspects are United Motors, Sam Motors, Koloi Land, Faiz Motors, Motornet and JH Motors.
“The police have also recovered and confiscated some moveable property comprising sofas costing M41 000, a double door refrigerator worth M21 000 and a washing machine priced at M7 000 from the female sales consultant who was cohabiting with one of the suspects.”
Supt Mopeli said primary investigations have yielded that M10 million of the fraudulently acquired money has already been exhausted while the remaining M7 million has been frozen in the bank accounts.