Corrupt passport officer nabbed in sting operation

MASERU — It was a trap well-executed which saw a corrupt passport officer caught red-handed for soliciting a bribe.

Tlalane Matamane had informed the police that ‘Mapitso Petlane had allegedly demanded M300 from her to release her passport.

Petlane is an officer in the department of immigration.

She was allegedly working in close collaboration with two other people — Motlatsi Mohau and Lekopa Mokuena.

Matamane had applied for an emergency passport just before the Christmas break.

She works in South Africa as a domestic worker.

Her application had been accepted and was told to come and collect her passport within a week.

This was the beginning of her misery.

A week passed and officers within the immigration department failed to release her passport.

The week slowly turned into two weeks with no sign of a breakthrough.

Frustration was beginning to build up within her.

It was at that moment that Petlane approached her.

She promised to release her passport on condition that she paid a M300 “sweetener”.

Matamane then approached the police.

The police then set up a trap.

The immigration officer was caught while exchanging the cash for the passport.

The two other suspects were arrested soon after.

“The police planned the plot immediately after receiving the report from the passport applicant.

“We gave her the money and followed her to where they had agreed to meet the person who would deliver the passport. She did that and the man was arrested. He led the police to the other two,” Masupha Masupha the police spokesman said.

The three appeared before the Maseru Magistrate Court on Monday.

They were charged with violating section 25 of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act of 1999.

“ ’Mapitso Petlane, Motlatsi Mohau and Lekopa Mokuena, are charged in that upon or about January 6, 2011 and at or near the immigration offices in Maseru district the said accused unlawfully and intentionally, corruptly accepted benefit of M300 as a reward for giving Tlalane Cecilia Matamane a Lesotho local passport and thus commit an offence,” said the charge sheet.

The three were remanded in custody.

They are due to appear in court on January 24. 

Masupha said the police were concerned by the growing numbers of corrupt passport officers who were demanding bribes to release passports.

“It seems that officers at the passport services department will not give people their passports before they receive bribes. People pay the bribes out of desperation to get their passports,” Masupha said.

He said a security guard who works at the passport department was arrested a few weeks ago for soliciting a M150 bribe from a passport applicant.

The guard told the man that he would help facilitate the quick release of his passport only if he paid the bribe.

The police said they suspected more passports were being deliberately held by passport officers to push their owners to pay bribes.

Passport applicants last week picketed at the passport office in Maseru protesting against the delays in the issuing of their travel documents.

Most of the angry demonstrators complained that had submitted their applications as far back as 2008.

But up until now they were still to get their documents.

They complained that officers within the department were insisting that their passports were still being processed.

Applicants who mostly work as domestic workers in South Africa say they could lose their jobs if they do not get their travel documents.

The principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Retšelisitsoe Khetsi said the ministry was working hard to clear the backlog.

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