Another high profile trial postponed

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…as pro deo lawyers press govt for payment

Moorosi Tsiane

DEFENCE lawyers in the trial of nine soldiers charged with murdering three civilians in 2017 have indicated that they cannot continue offering their services due to the government’s failure to pay their pro deo fees.

As a result, Judge Moroke Mokhesi has postponed the case to 17 to 26 April and 2 to 9 May 2023.

Advocates Letuka Molati, Karabo Mohau KC, Napo Mafaesa and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika told the court this week that they could not proceed with the matter until the government pay their dues.

The case had been postponed in September after the Crown raised concern that the government was owing them their legal fees.

On Monday, lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, told Justice Mokhesi that they were ready to proceed. But Adv Mafaesa said the defence was not ready to continue due to the non-payment of their pro deo fees.

“My Lord, the Crown is ready to proceed but that is not the case with the defence. Until our fees have been attended to, we are not ready to continue. That is the position we have adopted,” said Adv Mafaesa.

Adv Molati who represents Brigadier Rapele Mphaki said the High Court Registrar, Adv Mathato Sekoai, was clear that they would not get paid.

“The Registrar is the one who facilitates our pro deo fees and she was clear that we will not be paid. We have asked for an indication from her and there has been nothing until now,” said Adv Molati.

Adv Abrahams, who failed to appear in court last month to prosecute the case due to the government’s failure to pay him, said they were still not paid as well but they were at the court because they wanted the matter to be heard to finality.

He also said the defence needs to give clarity and stop going in circles.

“I am not here today because my fees have been settled. That issue still hasn’t been resolved; only three of my invoices from last year have been paid. I am here simply because Your Lordship has said the matter has to continue. I would be happy to withdraw if the issue of fees is not resolved and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) knows my position on that. I am not emotionally attached to these cases.

“We need clarity because can’t keep going in circles and justice must not suffer. My understanding is that they don’t want to withdraw but to be paid so I think the Registrar must be called before the Court as it will be a futile process to get new pro deo lawyers for them to be in the same position of not getting paid,” submitted Adv Abrahams.

Justice Mokhesi asked that he be given a few minutes to go and meet with the Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane.

When he returned, he told the defence team that there were indeed some financial challenges. He said Chief Justice Sakoane had promised to take the matter to the newly-sworn in Prime Minister Sam Matekane and they would give feedback the following day on the way forward.

When the matter resumed on Tuesday, Justice Mokhesi said Justice Sakoane had also failed to get positive feedback. The only option was to move the matter to next available dates, which will be 17 to 26 April and 2-9 May 2023.

“Yesterday (Monday) the Chief Justice had promised that he would try to knock on a few doors to get the matter resolved. Regrettably, he failed to get a positive answer and in the circumstances, the matter will have to be postponed. I am told Attorney General (Rapelang Motsieloa) will be provided with your request today but as it is there is nothing positive to say.

“In the circumstances the matter is postponed to 17-26 April, 2-19 May 2023,” said Justice Mokhesi.

He said they had tried all they could but the matter was now beyond their control. But at the end of the day defence lawyers needed to be paid, he said.

Former boss at the Military Intelligence (MI), Brigadier Rapele Mphaki is accused alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.

They allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane to death at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumped their bodies in the Mohale Dam.

The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after they had just been released from police custody. They had been detained in connection with a shooting incident at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.

A soldier, Private Seliane, and Moeketsi Makhabane, a street vendor, were shot dead at the Maseru border post. Another soldier, Private Nkonyama sustained injuries and was rushed to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital. He survived.

Six men, including the now deceased Messrs Noko, Pakela and Makibinyane, were arrested and detained at Pitso Ground Police Station in connection with the shooting incident. The three had been arrested together with Motlatsi Rantaoane (alias Teboho Mathota), Molise Motaung and Tello Thoi.

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