PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane and his predecessor, Pakalitha Mosisili, and the security chiefs have been roped in to testify in the case in which former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and nine other soldiers are accused of murdering army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lt-Gen Kamoli, former spy boss Tumo Lekhooa are accused of murdering Lt-Gen Mahao in 2015. They are accused along with 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 not initially among the suspects but they were added onto the list of the accused by the prosecution when Zimbabwean judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, first 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.
And with the trial expected to begin next month on the 26th, Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili have been roped as witnesses along with seven others.
The seven other new witnesses are former Defence and National Security minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, Law and Constitutional Affairs principal secretary Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli, Deputy Commissioner of Police Keketso Monaheng, army commander Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela, former Commissioner of Police Khothatso Tšooana and Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Janki Hlaahla.
According to a confidential letter written to the prosecution and the defence lawyers by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, there were initially 51 witnesses when the amended indictment of the suspects (to include Lt-Gen Kamoli and Col Lekhooa) was filed with the Registrar of High Court and served on the accused in January. Adv Motinyane also states that the amended indictment charge contains copies of the witness statements, crime scene investigation reports, postmortem examination report, crime scene photo-albums, ballistic analysis reports and various other documents relevant to the case.
Adv Motinyane added that Dr Thabane, Dr Mosisili and others were roped in as witnesses after it became evident that the police needed to cast their net wider to successfully prosecute the case.
“During recent interviews with witnesses in preparation for the upcoming trial (of Lt-Gen Kamoli and others), it became evident that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) are required to obtain witness statements and/or additional statements from the following people: Prime Minister Thabane, former Prime Minister Mosisili, former cabinet minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, permanent secretary Law Mr Tanki Mothae, Deputy Commissioner of the LMPS Keketso Monaheng, Commissioner of the LMPS Holomo Molibeli Commander of the LDF Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela, Former Commissioner of the LMPS Mr Khothatso Tšooana and Senior Assistant Commissioner of the LMPS Janki Hlaahla,” Adv Motinyane states in her letter titled Rex versus Litekanyo Nyakane & nine others. The letter is dated 27 June.
She said that the statements obtained from Dr Thabane and the other new witnesses would be provided to the defence lawyers on or before 31 July 2019.
She added that she had also scheduled a meeting with the Commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS), Thabang Mothepu, to ensure the defence lawyers had full access to their detained clients ahead of the trial.
“I have also scheduled a meeting with the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (Lt-Gen Letsoela) for 28 June 2019, regarding the issue raised of the alleged directive that members of the LDF are prohibited from visiting any of the accused at the (Maseru) correctional facility,” Adv Motinyane states.
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 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 in 2015 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 that 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.