- former first lady sent to prison after top court revoked her bail
FORMER First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane is now languishing in remand prison.
She was jailed yesterday – ahead of her trial for the murder of her husband Thomas Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo – after the Court of Appeal revoked her bail last week because it had been irregularly granted.
The normally ebullient ‘Maesaiah cut a lonely and disconsolate figure in the dock even before Maseru Magistrate Thamae Thamae began proceedings to send her to prison.
On Friday 29 May 2020, the Court of Appeal nullified the M1000 bail she was controversially granted by Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase on 5 February 2020. The apex court ruled the bail had been unprocedurally awarded without any due consideration of the seriousness of the crime she is accused of.
The apex court ruled that the High Court should hear ‘Maesaiah’s bail application afresh. This time under a different judge and not Justice Mahase.
This means that until the bail application is heard afresh, ‘Maesaiah will be cooling her heels in prison. She cannot legally apply for bail while outside prison, hence magistrate Thamae’s order to send her to remand prison yesterday.
Shortly after the Court of Appeal verdict last Friday, Deputy Police Commissioner (DCP) Paseka Mokete had told the Lesotho Times’ sister Sunday Express newspaper that they were now searching for Ms ‘Maesaiah with a view to handing her over to the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) for detention until a fresh bail application is heard. She was said to be in South Africa on undisclosed business and weekend reports in that country’s media even claimed she had fled into exile.
But the former first lady showed up at the Maseru Magistrates’ Court in the company of six police officers from the Mokete-led Criminal Investigations Division (CID) to learn of her latest fate.
“She (‘Maesaiah) was brought to the police this morning at about 9.30am by her lawyer (Adv Rethabile Setlojoane) and we took her to the magistrates’ court,” DCP Mokete told the Lesotho Times yesterday.
Although her nose and lips were covered by a mask, she wore in compliance with the public health regulations to stop the spread of the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, one could tell that all was not well with the normally effervescent ‘Maesaiah. She did not engage in her usual banter with the media. Instead of posing for pictures as she usually does, she slumped into her seat and refrained from any eye contact with the police officers, judicial officers and journalists in the courtroom. Her husband Mr Thabane and his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party allies were not there for her in her darkest hour, possibly due to the restrictions on court attendances imposed as part of the Covid-19 fight.
She did not even have legal representation when the court convened. It is not clear why her lawyer was not present in court yet he had initially accompanied her to the police. A lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Lepeli Molapo, told the court that ‘Maesaiah was appearing to be remanded in custody after her bail was set aside by the Court of Appeal.
Adv Molapo said she had a right to file a fresh bail application but could only do so from custody since her 5 February 2020 bail had been revoked by the apex court.
“Pursuant to Court of Appeal judgement of 29 May 2020, bail proceedings which had been lodged by the accused (‘Maesaiah) were reviewed and set aside,” Adv Molapo said.
“The logical conclusion is that the accused is no longer out on bail. In that respect, we brought her to be remanded in custody pending the hearing of her bail petition,” added Adv Molapo.
Magistrate Thamae then remanded ‘Maesaiah in custody and ordered her to reappear for her routine remand on 16 June 2020.
“The decision of the High Court to grant you bail has been set aside by the Court of Appeal. Unless released again by the High Court, you will remain in the correctional service facility. You will report back on 16 June 2020 to find out the progress of your case, do you understand,” Magistrate Thamae said.
With an unusually low voice, ‘Maesaiah replied, “Yes I understand”.
Magistrate Thamae then ended the court proceedings and the CID police officers wasted no time in whisking away ‘Maesaiah to their waiting vehicle. They ferried her to the female section of the Maseru Central Prison where she will remain detained until she files a fresh bail application.
DCP Mokete later said “we expect her to reapply for bail and we will wait for her to serve us her papers so that we can oppose”. The police are adamant the former First Lady will plot against witnesses if left free.
‘Maesaiah stands accused of the 14 June 2017 murder of Lipolelo. She has also been charged with the attempted murder of Ms Sibolla, with whom Lipolelo had been travelling, when she was gunned down in cold blood at Ha-’Masana, Maseru. Ms Sibolla sustained some injuries in the incident which occurred just two days before Mr Thabane’s inauguration for his second stint as premier.
Mr Thabane has been charged with the same crimes but he is yet to appear alongside ‘Maesaiah after he was on 26 February 2020 granted leave by senior resident magistrate Phethise Motanyane to file a Constitutional Court application to stop the courts from trying him for the murder while he remained in office as premier.
But Mr Thabane is yet to file the said application which will now only be of academic interest, if he opts to proceed with it, as he is no longer premier after he was forced out by his own ABC party last month.
It remains to be seen if and when Mr Thabane will be charged by the DPP, whom the police blame for scuttling proper prosecution of the case. DCP Mokete said the police had done their part in investigating him and it now remained for the DPP, Adv Hlalefang Motinyane, to charge him alongside his wife.
The former first couple is accused of murdering Lipolelo because of ‘Maesaiah’s alleged impatience to become official First Lady in the wake of Mr Thabane’s June 2017 return to power and his protracted divorce proceedings from Lipolelo. The courts had earlier ruled that Lipolelo remained the rightful First Lady, entitled to all the benefits of that office, until the divorce proceedings had been finalised, a development said not to have sat well with ‘Maesaiah.
The speed with which the former first couple rushed to consummate their marriage soon after Lipolelo’s burial had also been questioned.
The police insist Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah were the only ones with a clear motive to eliminate Lipolelo. They were the only ones to benefit from her demise. But Mr Thabane vehemently rejected the allegations in a previous interview with the Lesotho Times declaring “we don’t kill people” in reference to himself and his wife.
Her incarceration yesterday marked the lowest point for ‘Maesaiah who had become accustomed to a jet set lifestyle as the ex-Prime Minister’s loyal companion. She had also become used to a life of splendour in State House, where critics accused her of directing the affairs of state, taking advantage of her elderly and frail husband, now 81.
She had always stood by her man including when they both fled into exile in the wake of the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first Thabane government by soldiers under the command of the then army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. They were to spend nearly two years in exile in Ficksburg, South Africa, before returning to assume the reins of power once more after Mr Thabane won the June 2017 snap elections. Incidentally, Lt-Gen Kamoli is also in remand prison awaiting trial for various crimes including the June 2015 murder of former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
The apex court ruling revoking ‘Maesaiah’s bail vindicates Ms Sibolla and some members of Mr Thabane’s family who teamed up to petition the court to nullify her bail, alleging the decision had been rigged.
Shortly after being charged and remanded in custody by Maseru magistrate Nthabiseng Moopisa on 5 February 2020, Ms Thabane was granted bail by acting chief justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, under highly controversial circumstances.
Aggrieved by Justice Mahase’s bail decision, Ms Sibolla teamed up with Mr Thabane’s grandson, Thomas Thabane Jr, and two others to petition the Court of Appeal to revoke the bail. Thabane Jr is the son of Mr Thabane’s second son, Potlako Thabane. They were joined in the apex court application by Mr Thabane’s nephews, Khauhelo Molapo and Thuto Makhooane.
Justice Mahase, Ms Thabane, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo and Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli were the first to fifth respondents respectively in the apex court application.
In its 29 May 2020 judgement, the apex court cast serious aspersions on the character of ‘Maesaiah, suggesting there was a likelihood she could interfere or even kill Ms Sibolla.
In setting aside the bail, it ruled that the High Court should hear ‘Maesaiah’s bail application afresh. This time under a different judge and not Justice Mahase.
The appeal was heard on 20 May 2020 by Justices Johann Van der Westhuizen (from South Africa), Petrus Damaseb (Namibia) and Moses Chinhengo (Zimbabwe).
Their verdict was read out on 29 May 2020 by Court of Appeal president Justice Kananelo Mosito who said, “the decision of the High Court to grant bail to the second respondent (‘Maesaiah) is set aside and the bail is referred back to the High Court to be determined by a judge other than the first respondent (Justice Mahase)”.
“The High Court is directed to enrol the matter for hearing in open court on the basis of urgency. The third respondent must pay the applicants’ costs (in the review).”
The Court of Appeal ruling harshly chastises Justice Mahase for granting the former first lady bail without giving the state an adequate opportunity to oppose it.
The police said they had planned to oppose bail because they believed ‘Maesaiah was a flight risk as she had already skipped the country after being called in for questioning in January 2020. Now that she had been formally charged, she would have reason to abscond permanently, the police had wanted to argue. But they were not given a chance as the bail proceedings were apparently stampeded to benefit ‘Maesaiah.
The bail was granted at about 5.30 pm on 5 February 2020 well after the High Court’s accounts department, which receipts bail cash, had closed at 3.30pm.
Instead of being kept in custody pending the payment of the bail money the next day, ‘Maesaiah was allowed to go home, a decision criticised as a mockery of justice. The bail deposit receipt was only issued the following day when ‘Maesaiah was already at home.
The judges also blasted DPP Motinyane for her failure to lodge a comprehensive application opposing ‘Maesaiah’s bail. She was criticised for merely concentrating on the issue of ‘Maesaiah not being a flight risk while ignoring more critical issues including the submissions by DCP Mokete and the police’s legal department that ‘Maesaiah could even kill Ms Sibolla and interfere with witnesses.
Such omissions were “fatal” as they had resulted in a flawed judgement by Justice Mahase, the apex court said. But despite DPP Motinyane’s omissions, Justice Mahase was still “duty-bound to inquire as to what she needed to know” to make an informed decision. She had dismally failed to do so, the court ruled.
The judges also cast serious aspersions on the character of ‘Maesaiah who during her heights as first lady, became infamous for her garrulous streak, publicly belittling and berating anyone who stood in her way despite their age or station in life. The court suggested that if she remained free on bail, there was a possibility she could interfere with witnesses or even kill Ms Sibolla to stop her testifying against her.