THE police are searching high and low for fugitive former deputy prime minister and current Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing.
Police Spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said they had begun searching for Mr Metsing after receiving a warrant for his arrest from the High Court.
This after the treason and murder-accused opposition leader failed to show up for the start of his trial in the High Court early this week.
The charges are in connection with the attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on 30 August 2014.
Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane on Monday granted lead prosecutor Shaun Abrahams’s application for an arrest warrant for the 54-year-old Mr Metsing who has been charged alongside Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, former army commander Tlali Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, and Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.
Both Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane are represented by prominent lawyer, Motiea Teele.
Mr Metsing was conspicuous by his absence on Monday when Mr Mochoboroane, immaculately clad in a blue suit and white shirt, joined the other accused in the dock.
Advocate Teele then told Justice Sakoane that he was baffled by Mr Metsing’s no-show as his client was well aware of his scheduled court appearance. He then said it was up to the court to decide what to do with his fugitive client.
“I have to indicate to the court that it was my understanding that my clients (Metsing and Mochoboroane) would be joined to the trial as accused five and six today but I realise that accused number five is not here,” Adv Teele said.
“I communicated with him (Metsing) yesterday (Sunday). Besides that, he was already aware of today’s (trial) date as I had communicated the judgement ordering them to appear in court today. There was also a notice of trial which was served on him through me. “Now that he has not shown up, I am leaving the matter in the hands of the court,” added Adv Teele.
Adv Shaun Abrahams then seized upon Adv Teele’s submission to ask Justice Sakoane to issue a warrant of arrest for Mr Metsing. The chief justice granted his request, saying, Mr Metsing should be arrested wherever and whenever he is found.
“This court ordered that accused five and six (Metsing and Mochoboroane) to be arraigned today. The purpose is for the accused to appear before court and the indictment to be read to them so they plead thereto.
“In view of the fact that accused five, without explanation to the counsel, is not here, and considering the Crown’s application for a warrant for his arrest, the court orders that a warrant is issued for his arrest. The court expects that it be done promptly and be served upon him wherever he is found,” Justice Sakoane ordered.
The warrant, seen by the Lesotho Times, states that, “whereas Mothetjoa Metsing, a male adult whose present whereabouts are unknown, is accused number 5 in an indictment filed in the High Court of Lesotho on 19 February 2020 on counts of treason and murder,
“…and whereas the said Mothetjoa Metsing was served with a notice of trial on 25 February 2020…without any excuse or leave of court, absented himself from trial on 6 December 2021. Now therefore, the Commissioner of Police is authorised by this warrant to apprehend/arrest the said Mothetjoa Metsing wherever and whenever he is seen/found and bring him to court immediately or detain him in custody pending appearance in court if arrested on a weekend or public holiday.”
Senior Supt Mopeli yesterday said they had begun searching for Mr Metsing after receiving the warrant for his arrest.
He said it was still too early to consider applying for his extradition as they had not established whether he was still in the country or had fled to South Africa as he had previously done in 2017.
“We have received a warrant for his arrest and the police have started looking for him. However, we have not yet established his whereabouts so I cannot tell if he has skipped the country. He can be anywhere in the world so we cannot talk about the extradition issue until we are certain where he is,” Senior Supt Mopeli said yesterday.
The opposition leader previously skipped the country in 2017 when the net was closing in on him for alleged corruption. He however, said at the time that he had fled because the then Thomas Thabane administration was out to assassinate him. He only returned in November 2018 after a SADC-brokered government-opposition agreement which clearly stated that he and other exiled opposition leaders would not be prosecuted at least until after the country had fully implemented multi-sector reforms seen as crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability.
However, clause 10 of that October 2018 agreement, meant to protect them, was struck down as “unconstitutional” in two Constitutional Court judgements in 2018 and 2020.
This paved the way for him and Mr Mochoboroane to be tried alongside Lieutenant General Kamoli and others.
Mr Metsing’s no show is not altogether surprising as he had desperately tried to avoid standing trial until the last minute. Last week, he even met the head of the SADC facilitation team, retired former South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, in Pretoria in a desperate bid to get the regional bloc to stop the trial.
Two weeks ago, Mr Metsing had even written to Justice Moseneke, warning that failure to stop their trial would leave them with no option but to withdraw from the ongoing multi-sector reform processes.
The letter was written in the aftermath of Justice Sakoane’s 18 November 2021 judgement which threw out the duo’s application to stop the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, from joining them to the treason and murder case of Lt-Gen Kamoli and others.
Justice Sakoane said their application lacked merit and they would have to stand trial with their co-accused on 6 December 2021.