Lawyers’ no show riles judge

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Mohalenyane Phakela

The attempted murder trial of former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and his accomplices over the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and other victims failed to take off yesterday after some of the accused’s lawyers failed to turn up.

The lawyers representing the other three soldiers, who are in the dock with Lt-Gen Kamoli, are King’s Counsels, Motiea Teele and Zwelakhe Mda. They did not show up in court allegedly because the Acting High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, has not responded to their request to be paid by the state in terms of the pro deo arrangement.

Their absence riled Botswana judge, Justice Kabelo Lebotse, who subsequently postponed the trial to 1 April 2020. Justice Lebotse said he took a “dim view of lawyers” who absented themselves from court proceedings, saying next time the trial would proceed with or without them.

Lt-Gen Kamoli stands accused of attempted murder in connection with the the January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of Ms Thabane, her neighbour, ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana. He is accused alongside Major Pitso Ramoepana, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Malefane Heqoa and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.

The trial was scheduled to begin yesterday and All Basotho Convention (ABC) supporters had packed the courtroom to support Ms Thabane who showed up as a state witness along with Mr Tšooana.

Mr Tšooana is now the principal secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship. Last week, he shocked the nation with his claims that Ms Thabane and cabinet ministers, Mahala Molapo (Local Government) and Chalane Phori ((Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing) ordered him to unprocedurally award the M380 million Mpilo Boulevard Tender to the Chinese-owned UNIK Construction Engineering Company.

Ms Thabane was away on official business when Mr Tšooana made the sensational claims before the Public Accounts Committee. If there has been any fallout over the issue it did not show yesterday as Ms Thabane and Mr Tšooana sat side by side, engaged in light-hearted conversation and smiling as they awaited the arrival of Justice Lebotse.

Ms Thabane cut a picture of elegance, resplendent in a red seshoeshoe dress and a matching head gear. She sat next to the prosecution team and had a clear view of the soldiers who stand accused of attempting to end her life by bombing her house in 2014.

Deputy army commander, Major General Matela Matobakele, and Major General Ramanka Mokaloba also attended yesterday’s court session. Lt-Gen Kamoli, who denies the attempted murder charges, accuses Major-Gen Mokaloba of masterminding the bombings and wants the state to say whether or not it will add him to the list of the accused or alternatively turn him into a state witness.

Prior to the arrival of Justice Lebotse, prosecutors Advocates Shaun Abrahams and Naki Nku held a meeting with Lt-Gen Kamoli and Major Ramoepana’s lawyers, Advocates Letuka Molati and Kabelo Letuka before proceeding to the judge’s chambers.

When the court eventually sat at 11.30am, Adv Abrahams proposed new dates for the trial, saying they could not proceed in the absence of Advocates Teele and Mda, representing the other three accused soldiers.

“The state is ready to proceed and we have subpoenaed 39 witnesses but due to the absence of some of the accused’s legal representatives, we cannot proceed,” Adv Abrahams said. Captain Nyakane is represented by Adv Teele while Sergeant Heqoa and Corporal Seitlheko are represented by Adv Mda.

“We have been advised that Advocates Teele and Mda are committed in other courts therefore we have arranged alternative dates…for the trial. We therefore ask the court to postpone the case to those dates,” added Adv Abrahams.

Adv Molati then told the court that Adv Teele and Mda were absent because Ms Phafoli had not responded to their request to be paid for representing their clients under the pro deo arrangement.

“The lawyers representing the three accused have requested the registrar to finalise their pro deo pleas but until now there has not been a response to their 30 October 2019 request,” Adv Molati said.

But Justice Lebotse expressed his displeasure with the two lawyers’ absence.

“I take a dim view of the conduct of these lawyers …..Next time there shall be consequences as we will proceed with or without them.

“Imagine the expense of bringing witnesses and also wasting the time of the other lawyers present. We want these matters to proceed with speed. These people (accused) are interested to know their fate.

“The matter is postponed to 1 to 8 April and 18 to 29 May 2020. In the event that the lawyers representing the accused withdraw and the accused are unable to pay lawyers of their choice, the registrar is ordered to immediately avail pro deo lawyers to represent the accused,” Justice Lebotse said.

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