NEWLY-APPOINTED Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Mahlomola Manyokole, has commenced processes to suspend the DCEO’s Chief Investigating Officer Thabiso Thibeli for allegedly refusing to hand over files and dockets of high profile cases that the anti-corruption body has been investigating.
Mr Manyokole was appointed DCEO boss on 8 July 2019 and just over a week later on 19 July, he wrote to Mr Thibeli demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be suspended for disobeying an instruction to hand over files, firearms and inventory of all exhibits in his custody at 9am on 19 July.
While Mr Manyokole’s “show cause” letter to Mr Thibeli clearly shows that the move to suspend the latter was prompted by allegations of misconduct, some sources within the DCEO insist the real reason is to stop Mr Thibeli from continuing with investigations into high profile cases which involve senior politicians and other connected individuals suspected of impropriety in the procurement of vehicles for the government’s fleet services.
Mr Manyokole has however, rubbished allegations that he had ulterior motives in seeking to suspend Mr Thibeli. He said allegations that he had been strategically appointed to the DCEO to take instructions from Prime Minister Thomas Thabane regarding who should be investigated or shielded from scrutiny were grossly unfounded. In fact, investigations into certain high profile cases have been ongoing and some politicians will soon be prosecuted for corruption in connection with the government vehicle fleet services tender.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Manyokole rejected allegations by those who are claiming that he had been appointed to ensure certain high profile cases were not investigated.
“To my best of knowledge and recollection, my appointment had nothing to do with politics,” Mr Manyokole said.
“I was appointed by the Prime Minister and his message was that he (Dr Thabane) has always been committed to fighting corruption and he needs help,” Mr Manyokole said.
He added that the premier told him that he appointed him because he needed the help of people who could deliver on their mandate because Basotho were continuously complaining that they were not seeing any progress in the fight against corruption.
In his “show cause” letter to Mr Thibeli, Mr Manyokole states that, “I am in receipt of the reports which allege that you have committed acts of misconduct and offences in that some DCEO firearms disappeared in your custody without justification”.
“You have disobeyed a clear instruction to hand over firearms and inventory of all exhibits in your custody by 0900hrs on the 19th of July 2019. I therefore invite you to make your representations in writing by not later than 0830 hours on 22 July 2019, to give reasons why I may not suspend you pending investigations into the aforesaid acts of misconduct and offences,” Mr Manyokole states.
On 18 July, Mr Manyokole wrote to Mr Thibeli ordering him to hand over all files and dockets of high profile cases.
“Kindly bring all physical files and or dockets of high profile cases that are in your custody today on the 18th of July 2019 for my review. Take further notice that you should inform the Director General’s office first before you take any enforcement measures against any individual or company.”
The next day on 19 July, Mr Manyokole wrote again to Mr Thibeli demanding that the latter surrenders all firearms in his custody and the inventory.
Some sources at the DCEO told this publication that Mr Thibeli’s troubles began after he summoned and interrogated a well-known businessman in relation to a fraud case involving the procurement of vehicles for the government fleet from locals.
The sources said that Mr Thibeli and his team began investigating allegations of fraud and corruption in the procurement of government fleet after receiving tip-offs that senior politicians had solicited bribes from vehicle owners so that their cars would be considered for leasing by the government.
The tender process, which was held in September 2018, failed to yield the required 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were disqualified for failing to meet the requirements.
Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro first announced in March last year that cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who include taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women’s groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.
Others who were excluded from tendering are senior government officials such as directors in the ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers.
The Finance ministry however, received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as “fronts” when the tender bids were submitted last September.
This week the Lesotho Times learnt that the DCEO was roped in to investigate these allegations and that it discovered that some desperate vehicle owners were made to pay as much as M40 000 to have their vehicles leased to government.
“A large number of vehicles were turned away for failing to meet basic requirements like the limit on mileage, insurance and tax clearances. (Former DCEO boss) Ntate Borotho Matsoso received information that an organised group of senior government officials that included ministers and principal secretaries had solicited bribes from vehicle owners after promising that their cars would be considered for lease by the government,” a source said.
The source alleged that before he was unceremoniously removed from the top DCEO post, Adv Matsoso ordered Mr Thibeli to assign investigators to the case and that the investigations began towards end of last year. In February this year, Dr Thabane sent Adv Matsoso on forced leave pending the expiry of his contract on 30 June 2019. Dr Thabane did not give reasons for the move that Adv Matsoso said “came as a shock” to him.
According to the sources, Mr Thibeli and his team’s investigations uncovered evidence that an organised group that included a well-known businessman and government officials had collected bribes from desperate vehicle owners.
“Monies that were collected from vehicle owners whose cars didn’t meet the minimum requirements ranged from M15 000 to M40 000 per person. Ntate Thibeli’s investigations further revealed that the total collected in bribes was about M300 000. The investigations were recently concluded and the DCEO got the greenlight from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prosecute,” a source said.
Another source said the businessman initially refused to honour summons for questioning by the DCEO investigators. The businessman, whose name is known to this publication, only honoured the call for questioning last Friday in the presence of his lawyer.
“He (the businessman) refused to honour the call until a warrant of arrest was issued. Investigators went to his home and didn’t find him. Mr Thibeli then took it upon himself to call the businessman last week and we suspect that’s what landed him (Mr Thibeli) in hot water with his boss.
“Together with his lawyer, the businessman went to see Thibeli on Friday morning and it was agreed that they should all meet at the courts for remand on Tuesday,” the source said.
If the case is not interfered with, the sources said the businessman will be charged together with a principal secretary, a senior government official, an opposition member of parliament and a civilian over the government fleet issue. All the five names are known to this publication but their identities cannot be revealed until they have been formally charged.
On his part, Mr Thibeli confirmed that he had received the letters from Mr Manyokole last week.
“I can confirm that I received the letters and my suspicion is that it is because of the cases that I was investigating,” Mr Thibeli said without elaborating.
He added: “It is unfair for me to be given such a short notice to submit the dockets and files. Some of the dockets and files were compiled many years ago and to expect me to submit them within a short time is really unfair. However, I have responded to the “show cause” letter as I was asked to do.”
Mr Manyokole said he was not yet ready to comment in detail over the Thibeli issue until he finalised it.
“I will not respond to that until I have finalised the matter. I want to finalise it and then I can talk about it because he is now revealing these issues to the media yet it is an internal issue. We cannot deny the authenticity of that (“show cause”) letter. We take full ownership of that letter but we are surprised as to how it was leaked. It was an internal conversation and it was very irresponsible of whoever leaked that information and we are still investigating how the leak occurred.
“This has however, shown us the calibre of people working here (at the DCEO) – how dangerous they can be yet they are supposed to be dealing with sensitive information that shouldn’t be leaked at all. I am therefore conducting investigations on that leakage,” Mr Manyokole said.
He refuted allegations that he wanted to suspend Mr Thibeli for investigating high profile cases including the government fleet tender. He said investigations into the fleet issue commenced before he took over at the DCEO and if the investigations had been completed then the case should have been prosecuted in the courts of law.
“This (government fleet) case has nothing to do with the ‘show cause’ letter to Mr Thibeli. From what I was told, the government fleet case was reported to the DCEO long before I came.
“If the case was ripe for hearing and investigations were complete, it should have seen the light of the day in court. It should have been in court and I don’t know why it waited for me. All that I have requested is for them (Mr Thibeli and other DCEO staffers) to handover and to brief me on all high profile cases for my review,” Mr Manyokole said.
In a separate interview, Adv Borotho said he gave the greenlight for DCEO investigations into the government fleet tender “and at the time I left office, investigations were in the final stages”. If the corruption suspects in the government fleet tender appear in court then it will give credence to Mr Manyokole’s assertions that the “show cause” letter to Mr Thibeli was not motivated by any ulterior motives.