Ex- minister Au breaks silence on human trafficking saga
FORMER Home Affairs Minister, Tsukutlane Au, says he revoked the residence permit of the controversial Rana Qamar in 2017. Mr Qamar is a Pakistani currently at the centre of a drug and human trafficking storm.
Mr Au said Mr Qamar fled the country in 2017 upon learning of the moves to revoke his permit and only resurfaced in the country last year after the advent of the current governing coalition anchored by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Democratic Congress (DC).
Mr Qamar is currently in his home country after again fleeing the country last year in the wake of allegations linking him to an elaborate criminal web of drug and human trafficking activities, allegedly with the connivance of senior government officials.
Information recently obtained by the Lesotho Times shows that Mr Qamar’s alleged drug and human trafficking activities began many years ago and involved the use of Lesotho as a conduit to receive trafficked Pakistanis whose end destination was South Africa.
Mr Qamar had been fingered by Immigration Manager, Mapeete Jonathan, as the mastermind of human trafficking activities. In her court papers, Ms Jonathan also accused senior members of Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s DC party of conniving and abetting Mr Qamar’s illicit activities.
Ms Jonathan makes the allegations in her November 2020 High Court application to stop her transfer from the Moshoeshoe I International Airport to the ministry’s head office in Maseru. Mr Mokhothu has vehemently denied the allegations.
It has since emerged that Ms Jonathan was not the only one to express concerns about Mr Qamar’s alleged dark dealings. This publication has learnt that in 2017, His Majesty King Letsie III’s Senior Private Secretary (SPS), Monehela Posholi, requested then Home Affairs Principal Secretary (PS), ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie, and her then Police and Public Safety counterpart, Khothatso Tšooana, to investigate Mr Qamar for human and drug trafficking.
It is not clear what became of that probe as Ms Lemphane-Letsie and Mr Tšooana were not reachable on their mobile phones for comment this week.
This publication also learnt this week that in 2017, then Home Affairs Minister Au also revoked Mr Qamar’s residence permit after learning of the trafficking allegations against him.
Mr Au is a member of the Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD), which was the second biggest party in the previous governing coalition led by ABC leader Thomas Thabane from June 2017 to May 2020. The AD was barred from joining the current coalition when it took power on 20 May 2020 on the grounds that it had stuck by former Prime Minister Thabane even after the latter’s own ABC had resolved to oust him in favour of Dr Majoro.
Speaking on the Qamar issue in an interview with this publication this week, Mr Au said he revoked the Pakistani’s residence permit after the latter fled the country instead of presenting himself to a hearing to explain his “illegal” activities.
“I do not even know him personally and I have never met him,” Mr Au said of Mr Qamar.
“But while I was at Home Affairs, I received reports that he was involved in the trafficking of persons.
“I immediately sought to revoke his residence permit but some Home Affairs officers advised me to first give him a hearing. I then wrote to him asking that he attends a hearing but he fled the country instead. When the scheduled hearing deadline lapsed, I wrote him another letter revoking his residence permit but it was not served on him because he was no longer in the country.
“After the change of government last year, he returned to Lesotho. But I have learned that he fled again when his issues resurfaced and became a public topic,” Mr Au said.
This publication has also established that current Home Affairs Principal Secretary, Tumelo Raboletsi, wrote to the Director of Immigration, Mantšebo Motšoanakaba, on 16 October 2020 demanding Mr Qamar’s file.
“With respect to one Pakistani named Rana Qamar, kindly provide and bring his residence permit file and citizenship file to my office. Also bring copies of the letter issued by the former minister (Au) revoking his residence permit (and any other correspondence the ministry had with him),” Mr Raboletsi wrote to Ms Motšoanakaba.
However, the latter said the revocation letter was missing from Mr Qamar’s file.
“I regret to inform you that the alleged letter of residence permit revocation by the former Minister of Home Affairs Tsukutlane Au cannot be found in the file,” Ms Motšoanakaba stated in her reply to Mr Raboletsi.
Mr Raboletsi was not reachable on his mobile phone for comment yesterday.
Lesotho is on the brink after the United States government downgraded the country to Tier 3, the lowest layer in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020. The downgrade threatens to expose Lesotho to a host of US sanctions including losing development and trade aid unless stern action is taken to halt trafficking and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The US is expected to decide on Lesotho’s fate next month. Lesotho has already submitted a report detailing the steps it has taken to address the US’ human trafficking concerns. The report has not been made public.