FORMER Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, former National Security Services (NSS) Director, Tumo Lekhooa, and eight other soldiers who stand accused of murdering former army commander, Lt General Maaparankoe Mahao, will have to wait until 2 May 2019 for their trial to begin.
Their case is among those that had been earmarked to be presided over by foreign judges and it had initially been pencilled in for Monday. However, it was postponed to 2 May, by which date it is expected that the Constitutional Court would have delivered a ruling on an application by Lt-Gen Kamoli and 15 others challenging the appointment of the foreign judges to try them.
Initially eight soldiers were arrested and arraigned on charges of murdering Lt-Gen Mahao in 2015. The eight are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and Colonel Lekhooa were added onto the list of the accused by the prosecution when Zimbabwean judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, set the date for the hearing of the case on 17 January 2019.
However, Colonel Lekhooa, who also headed the military intelligence, has not attended any of the court proceedings after he fled the country in 2017.
Lt-Gen Kamoli, Mr Lekhooa and their co-accused face charges of murdering Lt-Gen Mahao on 25 June 2015 in Mokema. They are also accused of attempting to murder Lt-Gen Mahao’s nephews, Mahao Mahao and Mabilikoe Leuta, by shooting at the vehicle in which the duo were passengers.
They are further charged with damaging Lt-Gen Mahao’s vehicle during the same operation by firing at it with an automatic rifle.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is further charged with the theft of Lt-Gen Mahao’s 9mm pistol and Samsung Galaxy mobile phone.
The late Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander on 29 August 2014 after then and current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired the then army commander Lt-Gen Kamoli for insubordination.
Lt-Gen Kamoli challenged the dismissal and staged a coup attempt in August 2014, kick-starting a chain of events that culminated in the snap elections of February 2015. These ushered in the seven-party coalition under Pakalitha Mosisili that replaced Dr Thabane’s government.
The Mosisili administration reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal. A notice in the Government Gazette also announced the termination of Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander and demoted him to his former rank of brigadier.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court but the case fell away after he was fatally shot on his way to his farm in Mokema, outside Maseru, in the presence of his two nephews on 25 June 2015. The killers were soldiers under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command.
According to a statement by the nephews and a letter by the family to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and various African leaders, his truck was chased and stopped by three military vehicles.
A group of men with AK-47 rifles, including one in soldier’s uniform, then shot him as he sat in the driver’s seat.
In their statement, which they also made to the police, the nephews said they opened the passenger door and got out but were detained by the killers.
They alleged that after Lt-Gen Mahao fell out of the truck through the open passenger door, his murderers dragged his bleeding body face-down across the tarred road and threw it into one of their trucks.
Two vehicles drove off to the military hospital, while the third one stayed behind and held the nephews for 40 minutes before releasing them.
The family accuses the army of killing Lt-Gen Mahao in cold blood.
The military alleged Lt-Gen Mahao was shot while resisting arrest for leading an army mutiny. A Southern African Development Community (SADC) inquiry into his death rejected this account.
The SADC commission of inquiry, headed by retired Botswana judge Mpaphi Phumaphi, found that Dr Thabane’s appointment of Mahao as army commander was lawful.
It recommended that the government should investigate the killing and prosecute those responsible.
Dr Mosisili’s government appears to have ignored this recommendation. Only after Dr Thabane’s return to power in the wake of the 3 June 2017 elections did the police arrest the eight soldiers in connection with the death. Lt-Gen Kamoli and Mr Lekhooa have since been added to the list of suspects but the case will only be heard next month after a verdict has been delivered on Lt-Gen Kamoli’s court application for the nullification of the appointment of foreign judges to preside over it and other cases involving politicians as well as serving and former members of the security agencies.
The other 15 applicants in Lt-Gen Kamoli’s constitutional suit are former Minister of Defence and National Security, Tšeliso Mokhosi, Major Pitso Ramoepane, Thabo Tšukulu, Mothibeli Mofolo, Mabitle Matona, Rapele Mphaki, Pitso Ramoepana, Lekhooa Moepi, Mahlele Moeletsi, Mahlomola Makhoali, Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Liphapang Sefako, Nemase Faso, Tieho Tikiso and Litekanyo Nyakane.
They filed their application on 15 February 2019. They want the appointment of the foreign judges by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to be nullified on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
The application was heard last week by three Constitutional Court judges Thamsanqa Nomngcongo (presiding judge), Lebohang Molete and Moroke Mokhesi. Judgement is expected to be delivered on 12 April 2019.
During the Monday court appearance of Lt-Gen Kamoli and his eight co-accused, the Crown Counsel, Advocate Mamongonyo Baasi, asked the court to postpone the Lt-Gen Mahao murder case to 2 May 2019.
“The (Lt-Gen Mahao) matter was set for hearing which was supposed to start today (Monday) but there are no foreign judges to preside over it as there is a constitutional case challenging their appointment,” Adv Baasi told the High Court.
“I have been reliably informed that judgement of the constitutional case will be delivered on 12 April 2019. May the matter be postponed to 2 May 2019 for mention but should there be any developments before then, the accused will be notified. The accused are all before the court except for Tumo Lekhooa who is at large,” Adv Baasi further said.
The presiding judge, Justice Nomngcongo then postponed the case in line with Adv Baasi’s recommendation.
“Gentlemen, you will return to this court on 2 May 2019 unless something happens before then,” Justice Nomngcongo told Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused.
Lt-Gen Kamoli also faces another murder charge in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at the Police Headquarters in Maseru during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
He also faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
In this case, Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
The former army commander has been languishing in remand prison since his arrest in October 2017 and his attempts to get bail have so far failed.