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MASERU — Four senior police officers are facing charges of corruption, fraud, bribery and theft by false pretence.
They are also accused of obstructing the course of justice.
Assistant Police Commissioners Dlamini Mphatšoane and Thakane Theko together with Inspector Habofanoe Lepheane appeared briefly before the Maseru magistrate court on Tuesday but were not asked to plead.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Tumelo Moseme was not present in court because he was out of the country.
The four are charged together with local businesswoman Rebecca Makhalemele and her two companies – Linare Clothing and New Vision Suppliers.
Also charged are Phethang Mpota and Sekoala Motsoasele who are senior managers for Boliba Savings and Credit, a local cooperatives bank.
Makhalemele, Mpota and Motsoasele also appeared in court on Tuesday but like the three officers, they were not asked to plead.
Magistrate Molemo Monethi remanded the seven suspects out of custody on free bail with conditions that they should not interfere with crown witnesses, police investigations, and that they should attend court hearings when required.
The seven were nabbed by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) in March following an investigation that lasted for more than six months and dug deep into their bank accounts to unravel the extent of their alleged sleaze.
They are accused of conniving to rig tenders for the supply of the police’s new uniforms for the special operations unit which is headed by Mphatšoane.
The charge sheet portrays a well-planned scheme that the seven are alleged to have hatched to rig tenders and falsify documents.
By the time they were caught, the state alleges, the accused had rigged tenders worth hundreds of thousands of maloti.
The police officers had pocketed M125 000 in bribes from Makhalemele, the state claims.
The state alleges that their sleaze started in 2009 when the police decided to introduce a new type of uniform for the special operations unit.
Mphatšoane was chairman of the police’s tender evaluation team and a member of the Commissioner’s Advisory Board.
“At all material time (Makhalemele) had always been in contact with (Mphatšoane and Theko) who were long time friends,” reads part of the charge sheet.
Makhalemele allegedly prepared three quotations using the names of CSM Suppliers (Pty) Ltd, Smarttech (Pty) Ltd and Pearl Imperial Suppliers (Pty) Ltd for the tender to supply 44 sets of uniforms.
Directors of the three companies did not know that their companies had quoted for the tender and had not authorised anybody to submit their quotations to the police’s procurement unit, it is alleged.
Makhalemele allegedly ordered her secretary “to submit the three quotations specifically to (Mphatšoane) and no one else.”
After receiving the quotations Mphatšoane and Theko are said to have “prepared a requisition and submitted it to the procurement unit of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) together with the quotations under the misrepresentation that Pearl Imperial . . . had won the tender.”
An amount of M98 340 was paid to Pearl Imperial account at Boliba Savings and Credit for the supply of 44 sets of uniforms, the state alleges.
Makhalemele then allegedly connived with Mpota, the Boliba Savings and Credit branch manager, and Sekoala Motsoasele, the general manager, to divert the payment from Pearl Imperial’s account to New Vision Suppliers, a company owned by the businesswoman.
In November 2009, before the delivery of the uniform, Mphatšoane allegedly made an application for a selective tendering for the procurement of yet another batch of 360 sets of uniform citing two of Makhalemele’s companies, New Vision Suppliers and Linare Clothing together with Pearl Imperial Suppliers and CSM Suppliers.
However, the Public Procurement Advisory Division (PPAD) rejected the application and ordered an open tender.
“During the open tender as ordered, (Mphatšoane) acted as the chairperson of the evaluation team with (Theko and Moseme) as members while (Lepheane) was the secretary,” reads part of the charge sheet.
“This open tender saw New Vision as the winner and Linare Clothing as the second best.”
It is also alleged that New Vision received a quotation for 400 combat jackets from GEOBO C&D, a company based in Korea, on April 19 last year before any need was identified by the police for the procurement of any combat jackets.
On July 6 last year, before any invitation was made to suppliers or any tender notice was issued, Mphatšoane allegedly issued a letter confirming to Boliba Savings and Credit that New Vision had won the tender to supply the police with 400 combat jackets.
This was despite the fact that the tender had not yet been awarded.
On August 26, 2010 the consignment of 400 combat jackets arrived in Lesotho from Korea addressed to the LMPS but marked New Vision on the packaging.
“During all this time, no tender procedures had begun at LMPS nor anywhere else regarding the said procurement,” the charge sheet says.
During the same month, a tender notice was issued for the first time and in October another of Makhalemele’s companies, Linare Clothing, was granted the tender to supply the 400 combat jackets.
By that time the jackets were already in Lesotho.
The uniforms were on February 17 and 18 this year seized by DCEO investigators at Makhalemele’s private residence in Pitseng in Leribe and her offices in Maseru.
Moseme had earlier been asked by DCEO if he knew about the 400 combat jackets but he allegedly denied any knowledge.
It is alleged that on March 10, 2011 Moseme signed a contract between the police and Makhalemele’s Linare Clothing for the supply of the combat jacket even though he knew that the DCEO was already investigating the matter.
“In signing the said contract, the accused knew full well that he was interfering with the investigations by portraying as if the said procurement was lawful,” says the charge.
Between March 29 and April 23 the payments for the 44 and 360 sets of uniforms were paid into Theko’s personal account.
In the bribery charge, Magistrate Molemo Monethi said Mphatšoane, Moseme, Theko and Lepheane allegedly received M125 000 from Makhalemele in May last year, which was paid to them through separate transactions as a reward for awarding the tenders.
The charge sheet says on May 4 last year Makhalemele paid Theko M20 000 in cash while two days earlier she had paid her M70 000 through a bank transfer.
On August 15 Makhalemele further paid Theko M30 000 through a bank transfer and on August 21 she also dished out M5 000 to the top policewoman in cash.
The crown said the top cops acted in concert to commit bribery.
In March this year the Sunday Express, the Lesotho Times’ sister publication, was the first to report about the discovery of the uniforms by DCEO.
The uniforms were unloaded from three vans at the DCEO offices, sources close to the matter said.
The Sunday Express witnessed as the uniforms were being loaded into a government truck behind the DCEO offices two weeks later.
The uniforms were taken to an unannounced place as the DCEO did the job secretly.
The truck which was full to capacity was covered with a blue police tent.
The Sunday Express was barred from taking pictures with threats of legal action should any picture of the trucks be published.
The DCEO staff that loaded the truck worked quickly to avoid any suspicion from the public that was passing in a busy Constitution Road.
The truck was loaded and covered within 40 minutes.
The suspects will appear in court again on July 1.