…theft of 75 weapons thought to be an inside job
SOME of the 75 guns that were stolen from the Mafeteng Police Station armoury – with inside help from corrupt police officers – have been sold to rampaging Famo gangs largely responsible for the killing sprees in Lesotho and at several illegal mining sites in neighbouring South Africa.
Authoritative police sources this week told the Lesotho Times that three police officers had yesterday confessed to stealing some of the weapons over the weekend. They confessed to selling some of the guns for as much as M50 000 each to the Famo gang members.
The stealing of the weapons from a major police station, that is supposed to be a cradle for the fight against crime, has sent shockwaves across the country. It has also renewed questions about the competency levels in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) which has been under the spotlight amid the ever-escalating wave of violent crime across the country. Corruption and high levels of incompetence and lack of professionalism in the LMPS are seen as being at the core of the increasing crime rates in the country.
LMPS deputy spokesperson, Sub-Inspector ‘Mareabetsoe Mofoka, said the guns had been reported missing on 6 November 2021.
“It is true that there are missing guns,” Sub-Insp Mofoka said in an interview with this publication this week.
“Reports indicate that on 6 November 2021 at around 9am, the officer in charge of the armoury arrived to find that the armoury door was not properly closed. He went in and found that there were missing guns.
“It was discovered that 75 guns were missing. Investigations are ongoing to establish what happened because the number of the missing guns suggests that these guns were not all taken in one night. No one has been arrested to date,” Sub-Inspector Mofoka said.
Although she said they were awaiting the outcome of investigations, she suggested that the theft of the weapons was an inside job.
“The armoury is not a house that can easily be broken into, its structure makes it impossible for one to easily have access. Even fellow police officers don’t have access to the armoury. That this was an inside job will be determined by the investigations.
“It is believed that the guns were stolen with the intention of committing crimes elsewhere or to arm some people. That they (stolen guns) are in the hands of criminals is something that we suspect because there is no way such equipment can be stolen only to be kept at someone’s house. There was no break-in at the armoury, the type of door at the armoury makes it impossible for anyone to break-in. There is no way of breaking into that armoury,” Sub-Inspector Mofoka said.
She said some officers had already been questioned and those who were on duty on the night before the theft of the weapons would all be grilled to reveal “what they saw or heard”.
Police and Public Safety Minister, Lepota Sekola, said given the number of missing guns, there was no way the weapons could have been taken at once.
“It seems that the guns were stolen over a longer period of time. They were stolen over time because there is no way that a person can carry 75 guns at once because they would be too heavy. Besides, how is it possible that they could have been taken out of the police station (without anyone seeing) when other officers were there working?” Mr Sekola asked rhetorically.
Authoritative police sources yesterday told this publication that three Mafeteng police officers had confessed to stealing the weapons and selling them to Famo gangsters.
“Today (yesterday) we had a breakthrough in our investigations. Three officers confessed to stealing the weapons. They confessed to selling some of the guns for as much as M50 000 each to Famo gang members. We are finalising the investigations tomorrow (today) and hopefully the suspects will soon appear in court,” an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
Another senior police officer said preliminary investigations indicated that the officer in charge of the armoury and his accomplices had stolen the guns over a period of time and sold them to the Famo gangs in South Africa.
He said the Mafeteng officer in charge of the armoury was on Monday grilled by a team of officers over the stolen weapons while others who were on duty when the weapons went missing were interrogated on Tuesday and yesterday.
“It is worth noting that all weapons at any police station, including confiscated illegal guns, are stored in one place which is the armoury. There is only one officer who is given charge of the armoury and that officer told investigators that he took the key but forgot to lock the door when he knocked off the previous day. But it is a known fact that the armoury key can only be pulled out of the keyhole when the armoury is locked. He (officer) however, claims he took the key but forgot to lock the door when he knocked off. We find this explanation very suspicious.
“It is even more suspicious that only weapons which are exhibits from alleged crimes were stolen when the armoury was ‘mistakenly’ left unlocked. There is therefore strong grounds to conclude that the officer in charge of the armoury stole and sold the guns to Famo gang members based in South Africa,” the senior officer said.
The officer said this was not the first time that guns had been stolen from the security agencies. He said guns that were stolen from the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) in 2015 were later recovered from Famo gangsters in South Africa.
“We successfully investigated and recovered 30 guns from Famo gang members based in South Africa. But what is worrying is that the LCS officer who allegedly stole the weapons is still going to work as his case is pending before the courts of law….,” said the officer.
Another source said the weapons could not have been stolen all at once.
“Under normal circumstances, the armoury is supposed to be inspected on a daily basis to ensure that everything is in order but that was not the case. We would have detected the theft of the weapons earlier if the armoury had been inspected regularly. This just exposes the incompetency in the police service,” the source said, also adding that most of the stolen guns had already been disposed to Famo gangs.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro branded the Famo gangs as terrorists. They have been blamed for the violent killings of their rivals and ordinary people including women and children.
Famo gangs are different groupings of violent Basotho male musicians, competing mainly for prestige in their respective areas of dominance. They seek dominance and prestige in the areas in which they are based through the traditional Famo music genre. One group of Famo gangsters does not tolerate any other encroaching into its area of influence and resorts to killings to isolate competitors. The Famo gangsters use violence to assert influence. They are also a source of other criminal activities including contract killings, among many other vices. The Famo gangsters have also fought violent battles over control of illegal mining places mostly in South Africa.
The activities of the Famo gangs amid the proliferation of illegal weapons in Lesotho has since contributed to the high murder rates which have catapulted Lesotho to the top of Africa’s homicide rankings and sixth place globally.
The repeated theft of weapons from Lesotho’s security agencies who are supposed to lead in the fight against crime is particularly worrying. The problem has even received the attention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Ahead of the deployment of the SADC standby force to Lesotho from December 2017 to November 2018, the regional body warned of the likelihood of army equipment including missing arms of war being used in plots by rogue soldiers to destabilise the country. This was after arms had reportedly disappeared from the Lesotho Defence Force armoury. It was thought the arms – whose exact nature and numbers were not publicly tabulated – had been stolen by rogue soldiers bent on destabilizing the coalition government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane which had won the June 2017 elections.
In fact, the SADC standby force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), was essentially deployed to prevent any rogue soldiers from using stolen weapons to destabilise the then Thabane-led governing coalition as it went about implementing SADC recommended multi-sector reforms to curb perennial instability in the country as well as holding those who had committed crimes accountable.
A confidential report by SADC ahead of the standby force’s deployment stated that some arms of war had gone missing from the LDF armoury and warned that the missing weapons could be used by rogue soldiers to launch reprisal attacks as efforts to hold them accountable for past transgressions intensified.
The report spoke of arms of war and ammunition missing from the armoury of the LDF as well as heavy AK47 rifles that disappeared from the LCS.
While there were never any follow up official reports on efforts to recover arms stolen from the LDF armoury, it is nonetheless common knowledge that illegal firearms had been proliferating in Lesotho since then in tandem with the ever-increasing cases of homicides in the country.
Security sector sources say Lesotho is now also a safe hiding place for South African criminals who after committing violent crimes in that country retreat to hide in this Kingdom. Some of the South African criminals worked in cahoots with local Famo gangsters and corrupt police officials to escape arrests.