FORMER deputy premier Mothetjoa Metsing has fled the country citing a tip-off from a “trusted source” about a plot to assassinate him.
Mr Metsing, who is also Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, fled the country to an unspecified destination on Tuesday, a day after his party deputy, Tšeliso Mokhosi, handed himself over to the police to assist with the investigation into Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng’s disappearance and subsequent murder.
Mr Mokhosi, who was a Defence and National Security minister in the previous government, was yesterday charged with PC Khetheng’s murder and remanded in custody along with four police officers who face the same charge.
Mr Metsing’s flight was confirmed by LCD activist Mamello Morrison who told the Lesotho Times the former deputy premier had been warned that he was on a list of people targeted for assassination.
LCD spokesperson Teboho Sekata also told this publication Mr Metsing was concerned for his safety after seeing two bakkies and a van packed outside his home in Mahobong, Leribe district, on Tuesday night.
In response, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s Press Attaché Thabo Thakalekoala rubbished the claim that Mr Metsing was targeted for assassination, saying Mr Metsing had nothing to fear “unless he knows something we don’t”.
Mr Metsing served as deputy prime minister in the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven-party coalition government that governed from 17 March 2017 until the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections whose outcome ushered in a Dr Thabane-led administration.
Mr Metsing has been at loggerheads with the new four-party government since its installation, after a long-drawn corruption investigation of the LCD leader regained momentum over the past two months.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences recently quizzed Mr Metsing and Local Government Deputy Principal Secretary Ntai Makoetje amid indications the interrogations were in preparation for the instituting of fraud and corruption charges against the deputy premier over the awarding of a M120 million road construction tender.
The investigation was launched in light of allegations there had been suspicious deposits into Mr Metsing’s bank accounts between 2013 and 2014. Mr Metsing allegedly received M328 000 and M118 000 between April 2013 and June 2013. A deposit of M524 964 into his account was also not explained.
This was after the controversial allocation of a road tender to a company known as Big Bravo Construction Company for the construction of roads in the Ha-Matala and Ha-Leqele villages of Maseru.
The company is alleged to have won the tender at Mr Metsing’s instigation and the company left road works incomplete about two months before their contract ended in 2015.
Last week, Mr Metsing sued the government after Public Service Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane recently stated that the former was not entitled to the deputy prime ministerial benefits because he did not serve in the position for 36 continuous months.
The High Court has since given Mr Metsing temporary relief to continue to receive his pension benefits until the substantive case is finalised.
LCD official Zele Mpheshea’s arrest last Thursday and eventual release on Monday and the summoning of Mr Mokhosi by the police could have compounded the former premier’s sense of being under siege.
Mr Metsing had claimed in recent weeks that he had been targeted for assassination. And Ms Morrison, who served as Dr Mosisili’s senior private secretary during his last tenure as prime minister, cited that reason for Mr Metsing’s exile.
“I can confirm that Ntate Metsing fled the country on Tuesday night because of the high risk of his elimination,” she said in an interview last night.
“You might be aware of the fact that he has been saying he fears for his life and some people have been ridiculing that concern.”
Ms Morrison said Mr Metsing was also fearful of being arrested and interrogated in like manner as Mr Mokhosi, whom she claimed had been “brutally beaten”.
“Seeing the state in which Ntate Mokhosi was, having been brutally beaten, he (Mr Metsing) feared it was going to be worse,” she said.
Mr Sekata chimed in saying Mr Metsing feared for his life after seeing three vehicles he believed belonged to the police outside his home.
“Ntate Metsing told us that he saw two 4×4 trucks and a Toyota Quantum van parked outside his home in Mahobong on Tuesday night where he was at the time,” he said.
“Ntate Metsing said the three vehicles were carrying LMPS members but he did not know why they were there and did not stipulate the exact time they arrived and how long they were there.
“We, as the party advised him to leave the country for his safety as it is clear that the current government is on a mission to use state security officials to push their own agendas. I cannot disclose where he is but what I can assure people is that he is at a safe place.”
However, Lesotho Mounted Police Service spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli, has since denied the allegations of assault and urged the LCD to formally report their claim to the law enforcement agency.
For his part, Mr Thakalekoala expressed surprise at Mr Metsing’s flight and claim that he was targeted for harm, saying “there was absolutely no threat against his life”.
“Metsing is a citizen of this country, who has a right to live and associate with anybody he wants. Nobody is after him,” he said.
“So, it’s rather strange to say he fears for his life. If he honestly fears for his life, he should have gone to the police who would have taken care of that. I suspect that he is hiding something.”