MASERU — Police have smashed an intricate syndicate of criminals that was illegally printing government documents.
The syndicate was issuing court orders, registering stolen vehicles as well as producing temporary drivers’ licences, D-permits, licence discs and registration books.
Police say the D-permits were used to register taxis that would have been stolen mostly from South Africa.
A Sekamaneng-based taxi owner, Morai Mosoaboli, was arrested about three weeks ago and has already appeared in court charged with theft and the unlawful possession of government documents.
Mosoaboli, who the police say is the kingpin in the syndicate, appeared in court and was released on bail of M500.
The police say Mosoaboli had established a mini-office at his Sekamaneng home from which he was illegally producing virtually every government document.
So sophisticated were his suspected criminal operations that he had secured computer software that is used to print vehicle registration certificates commonly referred to as blue cards.
The blue card is proof of ownership of a vehicle and carries the owner’s details as well as the chassis, engine and registration numbers of the vehicle.
Once a vehicle has a blue card it means it is legally registered in Lesotho.
Police say when they raided Mosoaboli’s home two weeks ago they found official stamps, traders’ licences, sick-leave forms and temporary travel documents.
The temporary travel documents have since been phased out.
His clients, police say, included car thieves who used the documents to register stolen vehicles in Lesotho as well as some taxi owners who wanted permits to operate their taxis.
Government employees who needed falsified notes to bunk work also used Mosoaboli’s services.
The court orders were used to compel the police to release some vehicles that they would have impounded as exhibits from suspected car thieves.
Mosoaboli would allegedly print and sign the court orders to make them look like they had been signed by a High Court judge.
He had a High Court stamp, police said this week.
Armed with these court orders some suspects would then approach the police to release the vehicles that they would have impounded on suspicion that they had been stolen.
Police say vehicles they had impounded were released back to the suspects as a result of these fake court orders.
Some suspects have been released from police custody after they produced the fake court orders allegedly produced by Mosoaboli.
Mosoaboli also allegedly processed fake blue cards that enabled thieves to hoodwink the police into believing that their vehicles had been legally registered.
A number of vehicles that are in Lesotho have these fake blue cards, the police say.
When the police arrested Mosoaboli they also found him in possession of fake traders’ licences.
They also found D-permits — a permit that taxis need to operate.
Also in his possession were government stamps and fake temporary drivers’ licences. Mosoaboli is currently out on bail.
The police last week impounded 26 public transport vehicles that were operating using the fake D-permits and blue cards as the crackdown on the syndicate continued.
So far 16 people have been arrested in connection with the fake D-permits and blue cards.
A businessman who owns a local security firm was also caught with a fake trader’s licence that police say could have been produced from Mosoaboli’s “office”.
A female officer at a vehicle registration department in Teyateyaneng was also arrested for illegally registering vehicles.
Police say they are now looking for those cars that the officer is suspected to have illegally registered.
They say the registration numbers for most of the vehicles illegally registered by the Teyateyaneng officer start with a “D”.
Police suspect that a Lesotho Revenue Authority officer recently arrested for corruptly issuing tax clearance certificates to companies and individuals could be part of Mosoaboli’s syndicate.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said among the 16 people arrested seven were taxi owners.
Masupha however said he was yet to get the consolidated statistics of the cars that were released with fake court orders because investigations are still ongoing.
He also said he did not know how many suspects have been released from police custody because of the fake court orders. Masupha said police have launched a massive investigation into the syndicate and more suspects are likely to be arrested soon.
“This is one of the biggest criminal syndicates that we have broken,” Masupha said this week.
He said police started investigations into the syndicate as far back as May this year when Government Printers reported that 304 blue cards they had printed had been stolen. Although two officials from Government Printers were arrested and convicted for the theft, police did not recover the documents.
“That is when we decided to launch a full investigation,” Masupha said.
And two weeks ago they made a breakthrough when some taxi owners were arrested for possessing fake blue cards.
“After interrogations these suspects led us to Mosoaboli’s home where we discovered the documents.”
From Mosoaboli police were able to find 130 blue cards while 174 blue cards are still missing.
Masupha said police were still looking for more vehicles that could have been registered fraudulently using these blue cards.
Over the years Lesotho has gained notoriety for being the biggest destination of vehicles stolen from South Africa.
The porous controls at the border have made it easy for thieves to bring the stolen vehicles into Lesotho.
Syndicates like the one police have smashed have made it easier for the stolen cars to be registered in Lesotho.
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