Businessman Thabiso Tlelai dies in car accident

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Pascalinah Kabi

PROMINENT businessman Thabiso Tlelai has died.

Mr Tlelai, who had business interests in Lesotho and South Africa’s hospitality sectors, died together with his wife following a car accident in Durban on Monday. Details of the accident are still sketchy and his family is yet to release a statement.

Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Ntaote Seboka said yesterday Mr Tlelai’s untimely death was a “massive blow to the business community in Lesotho and South Africa”.

“I don’t know where to start but this is really sad. I have known Ntate Tlelai for many years as an astute businessman in the hospitality sector,” Mr Seboka said.

“We worked together to address issues which negatively affected business in the country before he ventured into other businesses in South Africa. We met recently when he was here at home and there was nothing to suggest that his success had gone to his head. He remained very humble and talked to everyone with so much respect and humility.

“He had always been a brother. We grew up together in Maseru. Honestly, this is a massive blow to the private sector because this is one of the people who had a huge staff compliment in Lesotho.

“His businesses in Lesotho may have experienced challenges but he was one of the people we trusted to use his rare skills to immensely contribute to the development our country’s economy. We are truly saddened,” Mr Seboka said.

The challenges alluded to by Mr Seboka related to Mr Tlelai’s investment in the Victoria Hotel in Maseru.

Mr Tlelai had been at loggerheads with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) which was investigating allegations that the state-owned Victoria Hotel was corruptly leased out him in 2002 by the then Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.

Back in June this year, the DCEO alleged that Mr Tlelai’s Sobita Investments was awarded the lucrative deal in 2002 by then Finance Minister Timothy Thahane to lease the strategically located hotel without an open tender process as required by procurement regulations.

After obtaining control of the hotel, the DCEO alleged that Mr Tlelai used it to move millions of maloti to his other South African based accounts. The DCEO said Mr Tlelai has never paid any rentals or taxes to the Lesotho government, thereby prejudicing this impoverished country of revenue it should have obtained from a key asset.

It was on this basis that the DCEO sought and obtained a provisional order which allowed it to evict Sobita Investments and place the Victoria Hotel under curatorship of M Putsoa and Associates.

High Court judge Makara Molefi granted the provisional order on 15 June 2020.

At the time of his tragic death, Mr Tlelai had a pending application to have the provisional order rescinded so that he could regain control of the hotel.

He had received the support of Mr Mosisili, Dr Thahane and five other former members of the Mosisili administration who all argued that the Victoria Hotel lease was above board.

The six others who threw their weight behind Mr Tlelai are former Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla, former ministers ‘Mamphono Khaketla (Communications, Science and Technology), ‘Mathabiso Lepono (Gender and Youth), Pontšo Sekatle (Local Government), former government secretary Tlohang Sekhamane and former finance principal secretary Mosito Khethisa.

They said Mr Tlelai had been awarded the right to lease the hotel via a cabinet decision in line with the then government’s strategic investment drive through public private partnerships (PPP).  It did not have to be subjected to a public tender as the DCEO claims.

Away from the controversies in Lesotho, Mr Tlelai ran successful businesses in South Africa and held directorship in several companies.

Apart from being the largest shareholder and director of Sobita Investment Group, he was also a founding member and director of Amabubesi Investments (Pty) Ltd, now called NMT Capital. He was also a founding member and chairman of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

At the time of his untimely death, Mr Tlelai was serving on the board of Basil Read as well as Golden Rule Technology.

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