THE Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO)’s director general, Mahlomola Manyokole, has accused Lesotho Stone Enterprises (PTY) LTD bosses and other Chinese nationals of “capturing” successive governments to protect themselves from being probed for various acts of corruption including money laundering and fraudulently obtaining residence and work permits.
Advocate Manyokole said “all the governments” that had come and gone “had in one way or another benefitted” from the likes of Lesotho Stone boss, Zhei Fengfu and his wife, Qingji Zhang.
He said the couple had even written to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao “to get them interfere with our ongoing investigations into their alleged acts of corruption”.
He said this in an interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday. His remarks come against the background of last Friday’s High Court decision to grant Lesotho Stone an interim order to resume its operations which had been stopped by the DCEO to facilitate investigations into the company’s alleged corruption and money laundering activities.
High Court Judge Thamsanqa Nomngcongo issued the interim order last week following an application by the Chinese-owned company. Lesotho Stone petitioned the High Court a fortnight ago following the confiscation of some of its immovable property and freezing of its bank accounts held at First National Bank Lesotho and Standard Lesotho Bank.
Lesotho Stone is the largest quarry of sandstone bricks and other building products for the southern African market.
In addition to seizing property and freezing its bank accounts, the DCEO also stopped Lesotho Stone’s quarrying operations at Teyateyaneng, Berea, as part of the probe into the suspected corruption and money laundering activities.
According to Adv Manyokole, the anti-graft body is investigating how Lesotho Stone renewed its licence despite allegedly failing to comply with environmental standards in its operations.
However, Justice Nomngcongo on Friday gave the company the greenlight to resume its operations pending the finalisation of its application for a final order barring the DCEO from interfering with its operations and seizing its assets.
The DCEO, First National Bank Lesotho and Standard Lesotho Bank are the first to third respondents in the application respectively.
Justice Nomngcongo ordered the DCEO to file its opposing papers within 48 hours of his Friday interim order. He also ordered Lesotho Stone to file its replying affidavit within 48 hours of the DCEO filing its opposing papers. This means that both parties’ papers have to be submitted by 13 October 2020. A date is yet to be set for hearing the case.
The DCEO’s probe against Lesotho Stone has been extended to its sister company, Decorat Art which manufactures and distributes various types of furniture for office, home and school use.
Last Wednesday, a DCEO team led by Mr Manyokole stormed Decorat Art’s offices in Maseru and seized money and equipment as part of the probe against the company.
“They searched the whole place and didn’t find anything illegal,” Lesotho Stone’s lawyer, Thabang Letsie, told the Lesotho Times this week.
“They took some computers and about M50 000 which they found in one of the rooms belonging to one of our technicians.
“The rooms were closed because our technicians are still holed up in China due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We didn’t have the keys but Mr Manyokole and his team decided to break in, saying they would pay for repairs if need be.
“Most appalling was the manner in which the search was conducted. The DCEO team was very rude and Mr Manyokole shouted at the top of his voice saying they were looking for boxes filled with money,” Mr Letsie added.
Contacted for comment, Mr Manyokole said they did what they had to do as part of their investigations.
“We were not rude in any way but we had to gain entry by force to find the company’s papers we were looking for.
“The interim order does not compel us to unfreeze the company’s bank accounts or return the assets we have seized. We have only been ordered to stop whatever it is that we were doing until the courts have finalised the matter,” Adv Manyokole said.
He accused the company’s bosses of attempting to capture the current government as they had done with previous governments.
“The sad part about these investigations is that there is a lot of deep-rooted corruption and these Chinese nationals have captured the government. All the governments that have come and gone had in one way or another benefitted from them and they are doing all they can to stop any investigations.
“They have even hired a police officer to make sure that they are untouchable and prove that they have captured the government.
“They have even written to Prime Minister Majoro and the Minister of Law (Prof Mahao) to get them interfere with our ongoing investigations. We have learnt that all the money laundering was done in the names of the wife, who for that matter, also acquired her immigration documents fraudulently.
“Our investigations have also yielded that they fraudulently acquired a mining licence. They also paid some officers at the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture to help them acquire all these documents. We are also investigating those ministry officials,” said Adv Manyokole.