DPP challenges Nthane acquittal  

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Staff Reporters

THE Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, has appealed against business mogul Tšeliso Nthane’s 8 April 2022 acquittal on murder charges by then acting Judge Palesa Rantara.

Mr Nthane had been charged with the 10 January 2019 murder of his truck driver, Kopang Mohapi. He was acquitted without even being put to his defence on the grounds that the prosecution had dismally failed to prove that he had a prima facie (on the face if it) case to answer.

His acquittal, after a trial which barely lasted three days, sent shockwaves around the country with some prominent people including former Justice Minister, Kelebone Maope, slamming the police and prosecution for the “shoddy job” which led to his discharge.

Advocate Maope KC said given the high levels of corruption among police and prosecutors, graft could not be ruled out as the reason behind the weak state case which led to Mr Nthane’s acquittal.

He said as the nation was now “in real danger from criminals” who were being allowed to walk free as a result of the incompetence or corruption of police officers and prosecutors.

However, other legal experts said the acting judge had been hasty in acquitting Mr Nthane without even putting him to his defence. They said the businessman should have been ordered to take the stand because it was not in doubt that Mr Mohapi had been killed by a bullet which had been discharged from Mr Nthane’s firearm. It was also not in doubt that the firearm had been discharged shortly after a heated argument between Mr Nthane and his now deceased driver. This suggested that the businessman had a motive for committing the alleged crime, the experts argued.

Just over a month later, a dissatisfied DPP Motinyane has filed a notice to appeal the matter in the apex court. She is appealing on the grounds that acting Judge Rantara erred and misdirected herself by among other things, failing to grant the prosecutor, Motene Rafoneke, the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses in relations to their statements to the police.

Advocate Rafoneke had called in two witnesses, Motiki Mokatse and Moeketsi Motsamai, who testified over two days. Neither of the witnesses’ testimony was helpful to the prosecution’s case as they both testified that they did not actually see Mr Nthane pull the trigger and shoot Mr Mohapi dead.

Mr Mokatse, who is employed as Mr Nthane’s truck driver, said prior to the incident, Messrs Nthane and Mohapi had been involved in a heated argument. However, he did not say who actually fired the gun that killed Mr Mohapi as he moved away from them and only returned a short while after the latter had already been shot at.

Explaining her decision to acquit Mr Nthane, Justice Rantara said that none of the Crown witnesses had testified that they saw him shoot Mr Mohapi.

She however, accepted that it was not in doubt that the bullet that killed Mr Mohapi had been fired from Mr Nthane’s gun.

This, according to DPP Motinyane, should have caused the acting judge to at least consider the possibility of a lesser charge of culpable homicide against Mr Nthane.

“Kindly take notice that the above-named appellant (Motinyane)…being dissatisfied with the judgement of her Ladyship Madam Acting Justice P. Rantara dated 8th April 2022 in discharging the respondent (Nthane) of his charge hereby appeals to the Court of Appeal of Lesotho,” DPP Motinyane states in her notice of appeal.

“The learned judge erred and misdirected herself in her ruling in denying the prosecutor an opportunity to lead the Crown witness in relation to the contents of the witness’ police statement.

“The learned judge erred and misdirected herself in deciding that there was no other offence of which the respondent (Nthane) could be convicted of in light of the evidence that the deceased died as a result of the conduct of the respondent.

“The learned judge erred and misdirected herself in ignoring the possibility of a definable degree of negligence on the part of the respondent when shooting a warning shot as sufficient evidence that might sustain a verdict of guilty on the charge of culpable homicide,” DPP Motinyane states.

Mr Mohapi had been involved in a road accident at the Moteng Pass about 171 kilometres from Maseru while transporting construction machinery to Polihali in Mokhotlong for the Nthane Brothers company, which had just been awarded a M235 million road construction tender for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

After the shooting, Mr Nthane handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police station where a murder charge was preferred against him. Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, who was then an ordinary High Court judge, presided over Mr Nthane’s bail application in January 2019 and released him on M5000 bail. His bail conditions were that he reports to the Butha-Buthe police on set dates, he refrains from interfering with Crown witnesses and stands trial to finality.

Since that time, the trial had inexplicably failed to take off until 6 April 2022.

But the trial was concluded in just three days.

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