I am prepared to die: Kamoli

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  • former army boss takes the stand for the first time,
  • declares he won’t get a fair trial
  •  accuses judge and prosecutor of plotting to have him hanged

Mohalenyane Phakela

INCARCERATED former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, stunned the High Court yesterday when he took the stand to launch a tirade against presiding judge, Charles Hungwe, whom he accused of prejudging him and wanting him hanged.

Declaring that he was prepared to die, Kamoli accused Judge Hungwe of essentially working in cahoots with prosecutor Shaun Abrahams to have him sentenced to death. This notwithstanding that capital punishment had since been outlawed in Advocate Abrahams’s home country, South Africa. He accused Advocate Abrahams of nonetheless seeking to have the death penalty resurrected in Lesotho, where it remains on the statute books, but was last used decades ago.

Kamoli then declared Justice Hungwe was “unfit” to afford him a fair trial in a rambling monologue.

He alleged that given the way the judge was conducting his attempted murder trial, he had become convinced that Justice Hungwe was pushing to fulfil lead prosecutor Abrahams’s “agenda” to have him sentenced to death.

The former army commander made his jaw dropping remarks during his attempted murder trial in which he is accused alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Sergeant Malefane Heqoa. The quintet is facing attempted murder charges in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the homes of former First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane and former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana. The attempted assassination happened at the height of the army’s lawlessness under Kamoli’s command. It is alleged Kamoli’s target was former prime minister Thomas Thabane who was a frequent guest at his then girlfriend ‘Maesaiah’s Moshoeshoe II home. The two are now legally married.

Kamoli’s lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati, was a no show for the trial on Monday and yesterday when it was supposed to proceed. Justice Hungwe ruled that he would proceed with the trial nonetheless because Adv Molati had been notified of the trial dates and had absented himself without engaging the court.

The judge’s decision did not go down well with Kamoli who then asked for an opportunity to address the court.

He then launched his rambling fusillade against the judge, accusing Justice Hungwe of having prejudged him on their very first encounter. On that encounter, Kamoli accused the judge of having promised to deal with his “attitude issues”, a remark Kamoli insists connotated bias against him.

But of more significance was Justice Hungwe’s stance to proceed with the trial without inquiring about the whereabouts of Adv Molati.  Kamoli claimed that alone meant the judge was determined not to afford him a fair trial.

“I am Lieutenant General Tlali Kennedy Kamoli – the first accused in this matter,” Kamoli roared after the judge granted his wish to take the stand.

“When talking about my lawyer, I heard the court deciding that it would proceed in his absence, yet I was never asked about his whereabouts.

“I want to correct something; it is not true that there was a time in the past when I was offered an opportunity to find another lawyer and I declined. That relates to the third accused (Nyakane) and not me.

“I hope the court’s recording machine is working properly because I want to take this court back. When I first encountered Justice Hungwe, he said he would deal with my attitude. What shocked me is that I had never said anything to him, and it was clear that someone had said something about me to him.

“The fact that the court is determined to proceed without my lawyer brings me to the conclusion that he (Hungwe) is here to deal with my attitude. From the bottom of my heart, I do not have confidence in this court, and I can repeatedly say that. What I learned is that Mr Molati is at the doctor hence he is not before court.”

Kamoli also accused Adv Abrahams of being determined to get him sentenced to death. He said he was convinced by Justice Hungwe’s conduct during the trial that Adv Abrahams’s wish would be achieved in the judge’s court.

“Although it was not in this case (but another) the lead prosecutor (Abrahams) said I should be sentenced to death. A person dies once and if Mr Abrahams wants me to die, I will die. It will be unfortunate if my death will be achieved through the hand of Your Lordship (Hungwe) at the influence of Mr Abrahams in whose home country (South Africa) the death sentence is abolished but he wants it implemented here. When I read the bible, it states that judges are appointed to deliver justice, but I do not see myself getting any justice from this court,” rambled Kamoli, clad in a blue sleeveless jacket, black trackpants and black hand gloves with a notebook in hand. He was visibly emotional.

However, neither Justice Hungwe nor Adv Abrahams commented on Kamoli’s submissions. They proceeded with the business of the day.

Adv Abrahams had suggested Kamoli was facing capital punishment in his opening remarks in another trial in which Kamoli is accused of the 25 June 2015 murder of former army commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao. Kamoli and his eight co-accused had demanded the recusal of Justice Hungwe in that trial, accusing him of bias and having “prejudged” him. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed their recusal application in October 2020.

And yesterday, the Crown was supposed to lead the evidence of its first witness but that did not happen after one of the defence lawyers, Adv Thapelo Ntsiki, elected to withdraw from the case after a verbal altercation with the judge.

Adv Ntsiki had assumed brief on Monday to represent Heqoa after the latter’s previous lawyer, Adv Hopolang Nathane KC, said he could not proceed with the trial due to unavoidable circumstances. Adv Ntsiki had then asked to be given until yesterday to familiarise himself with the case.

And when the Crown sought to deliver its opening remarks yesterday, Adv Ntsiki demanded another postponement of four days for him to finalise reading the witness statements. He told the court that he had only been able to read 10 of the 50 witness statements of five pages each on average.

This angered Justice Hungwe who said he would not postpone the trial any further due to Adv Ntsiki’s “incompetence”.

“So, you are telling me that you could not go through 250 pages (50 five paged statements) in 48 hours and that you only went through just 50 pages, meaning you only read a page per hour? My understanding is that you are pleading incompetence. The court cannot operate on that basis. You are basically asking me to handle the case at your own pace. A competent lawyer would have been able to deal with those statements in the time we had agreed. I cannot postpone the matter on that basis.

“If the court permits this kind of behaviour, it means no trial will proceed to finality. In other words, the court will be endorsing incompetence. Lawyers must adhere to the terms set by the court. It is the court’s duty to balance the interests of justice with the accused’s right to a fair trial. Consistent postponement of matters does not contribute to the interests of justice because justice delayed is justice denied. It is for this reason that I dismiss the application for postponement,” Justice Hungwe ruled.

Adv Ntsiki said he was unhappy with the “incompetence” label and was therefore opting to withdraw from representing Heqoa.

Heqoa then asked for the court’s indulgence to find another lawyer. Justice Hungwe gave him until tomorrow failing which a pro deo lawyer must be appointed for him.

Kamoli’s diatribe against the judge and the whole events of this week are in line with the former army commander and his co-accused’s Stalingrad strategy of stalling their trials in the hope they will get a political solution to evade their heinous crimes.  Advocate Molati’s seemingly unethical behaviour of simply absenting himself from court without the courtesy of sending a substitute lawyer or alerting the court of his absence seems to perfectly align with this Stalingrad strategy. Kamoli and co have repeatedly thrown spanners in the works to delay their trials, only to turn around and complain they have been held in custody for too long. Their strategy now seems focused on delaying their trials until the elections later this year in the hope that a sympathetic government or coalition, led by the Democratic Congress (DC), will free them without facing trial.

But that expectation might not bear fruit as the fearless Director of Public Prosecutions, Hlalefang Motinyane, has resisted all pressures to let politicians and any high-profile personalities accused of committing crimes off the hook.

Meanwhile, Kamoli and his five other co-accused’s separate treason and murder case has been postponed to Monday by Justice Tšeliso Monapathi standing in for Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane whom he said was out of the country.  In that matter, Lt-Gen Kamoli is accused alongside politicians Selibe Mochoboroane and Mothetjoa Metsing, as well as soldiers Nyakane, Lance Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.  Mr Metsing is now a fugitive from justice after he fled the trial in December. A warrant of his arrest has since been issued. DPP Motinyane has gone to the Court of Appeal to seek Justice Sakoane’s recusal from the case arising out of the August 2014 attempted coup against the first coalition government of Mr Thabane.  This after the Chief Justice was accused of using injudicious language against the Crown’s efforts to prosecute the case and of rejecting Adv Abrahams’s appointment to represent the Crown, among other things.

 

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