FINANCE Minister Thabo Sophonea has suspended the Finance Intelligence Unit (FIU) director, Palesa Khabele, for alleged misconduct.
The suspension is with effect from 6 October 2020 until the finalisation of investigations by “law enforcement agencies” into her alleged acts of misconduct.
Although Mr Sophonea does not disclose the alleged misconduct, Ms Khabele has been in the news since December 2019 after the police indicated that they were investigating her and eight others for fraud.
It is alleged that they concealed evidence of money they obtained from the FIU through fraudulent means. The funds were allegedly deposited into their insurance accounts held with a local company.
Mr Sophonea decided to suspend Ms Khabele after she failed to provide a satisfactory response to his 22 September 2020 letter demanding that she explains the allegations against her.
“I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 6th October 2020 wherein you were responding to my letter dated 22nd September 2020, requesting your good self to make representations on alleged misconduct and why you cannot be suspended pending the investigations of the alleged misconducts,” Mr Sophonea states in his 6 October 2020 letter to Ms Khabele.
“Kindly be informed that your submissions in the said letter were considered and found not convincing and therefore this letter is to inform you that you are suspended from your position as a Director and Chief Accounting Officer of the Financial Intelligence Unit, on full pay as from 16: 30 pm on 6th October 2020, pending the outcome of an investigation by the law enforcement agencies in your involvement in the alleged misconducts. This has been necessary due to the seriousness of the allegations.
“Before leaving the FIU premises today, please ensure that you hand over any and all work that you are currently undertaking to me and please do the same in respect of any FIU assets/equipment/keys in your possession.
“During this period of suspension, you shall not attend your place of work other than for the purpose of assisting in the investigation into your conduct. The assistance may be in the form of an interview with you and I would appreciate your full co-operation in this regard. Please remain available to meet with any of the persons assigned to investigate these matters.
“You shall not contact any other employees, clients, or stakeholders of FIU without my consent.”
Ms Khabele this week refused to comment on her suspension, saying “only the person who wrote the suspension letter can comment about it”.
Mr Sophonea’s mobile phone rang unanswered when this publication called him for comment yesterday.
Other FIU officers who are being investigated by the police are Liteboho Mosoeunyane, Itumeleng Monyau, Paul Mothae, ’Matau Mabitle, Tente Machite, Thikhoane Molapo, Jothane Phakisi and Mofokeng Ramakhala.
In July this year, Ms Khabele, Mr Monyau and Ms Molapo appeared before Maseru Magistrate Senekal Qobolo on charges of perjury for allegedly lying under oath that they had no access to pay slips of several FIU officers who are also being investigated for fraud.
The trio was released on free bail and their trial will resume on 28 and 29 October 2020.
Last month, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) summoned Ms Khabele to answer allegations of misappropriating funds belonging to the anti-graft body.
PAC chairperson Teboho Sekata even questioned the legitimacy of Ms Khabele’s post, saying there was a duplication of roles with that of the Finance ministry’s principal secretary.