Lawyers dump Kamoli, soldiers?

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Mohalenyane Phakela

TOP lawyers representing former army commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli and his co-accused soldiers yesterday “boycotted” court leaving their clients in shock.

The accused’s lawyers absented themselves barely 24 hours after their application to have the state pay them higher legal fees was dismissed by the High Court.

Lt Gen Kamoli appeared in court alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Malefane Heqoa and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.

The five are accused of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II home of First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha-Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

They appeared before Botswana judge, Kabelo Lebotse, who asked where their lawyers were. Lt-Gen Kamoli responded on behalf of all the accused saying they were surprised not to see the lawyers in court.

“We do not see them in court my lord, but may I ask, if I am being asked who my lawyer is, which lawyer of mine was informed of today’s proceedings,” Lt-Gen Kamoli asked.

However, Justice Lebotse, threw back the question at Lt Gen Kamoli saying it was him who should explain who his lawyer was. He said the absence of the lawyers would not stall the proceedings as everyone had been aware of the proceedings. He then set the pre-trial conference date for 26 September 2019.

“Your lawyers were advised about today’s proceedings but they chose not to be present. That will not stall the process as we will continue to set the pre-trial conference date,” Justice Lebotse said.

“You have an option to tell them to be present on that date and in the meantime, they will engage the prosecutor to exchange necessary documents. Alternatively, if they chose not to represent you, then you will exercise your right by approaching the registrar to assist with pro deo lawyers. Otherwise you will have to represent yourselves but I would prefer if you are represented so that you get justice.

“I am sure you are also eager to see this matter finalised, so I advise that you give the process utmost care. The pre-trial conference is set for 26 September and the registrar is ordered to advice your counsels about the date.”

Lt-Gen Kamoli is represented by Advocate Letuka Molati, Major Ramoepana by Adv Karabo Mohau King’s Counsel (KC), Captain Nyakane by Adv Motiea Teele KC while Adv Zwaleke Mda KC represents Sergeant Heqoa and Corporal Seitlheko.

The five accused are part of 32 attempted murder and murder-accused soldiers and police officers detained at Maseru Maximum Prison who wanted the state to pay legal their fees. Their application was dismissed on Tuesday by Zimbabwean Justice Charles Hungwe on grounds that there was no evidence that they could not afford to pay their lawyers.

The accused had written to the High Court’s Registrar, Advocate Pontšo Phafoli, in May 2019 asking that the government takes over the payment of their legal fees. Adv Phafoli approved the request in July 2019 committing to paying each of their lawyers M400 per appearance.

This in accordance with Legal Notice No. 183 of 2011 which states that a lawyer representing an accused person under the pro deo arrangement is paid M400 per day in court.

However, the prominent lawyers representing the defendants said the M400 was too little and therefore demanded that the state hikes the pro deo fees to M17 000 for each lawyer per court appearance.

Attorney General, Adv Haae Phoofolo KC, challenged Adv Phafoli’s decision to even award them the M400 and won the case before Justice Hungwe on Tuesday.

Earlier before the case was heard, the lawyers had already threatened to withdraw services if they lost the case to be paid higher fees. It is unclear whether they will pitch up for the pre-trial conference.

The lawyers’ absence could be part of a determined scorched earth approach by Lt-Gen Kamoli and company to stall their trials in the hope that they can get a political reprieve and be released without standing trial. Their main supporter Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Methojoa Metsing has set their release as his precondition to save Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from being dethroned in a no confidence motion.

Adv Mda KC told the Lesotho Times that he had not dumped his clients and would be available for the pre-trial conference. The other lawyers could not be reached for comment.

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