LRA officers in hot soup over missing M1, 4 million

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

 

TWO Lesotho Revenue Authority officers are in hot soup for allegedly misappropriating about M1, 4 million which was collected as toll fees from motorists at the Maseru border toll gate.

The money is said to have been misappropriated over several months starting from August 2020 to date.

The LRA, Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and the Road Fund have all confirmed that they are investigating the theft of the toll fees which are collected at the border gate by LRA officers on behalf of the Road Fund.

Although these institutions were unwilling to disclose the actual amount involved, LRA sources said the rogue officers had stolen an estimated M1, 4 million over the past year and four months.

Commenting on the matter, Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said, “Our fraud department is investigating the theft of revenue collected by LRA officials at the Maseru Border Gate”.

“At this point in time we can’t confirm that M1, 4 million was stolen as has been said by some people. The amount could even be higher. We shall only be able to disclose the amount when our investigations are complete. The only thing that we can confirm for now is that we are indeed investigating a case of theft and fraud,” Senior Supt Mopeli said in an interview.

LRA spokesperson, Pheello Mphana, also confirmed that the revenue authority was probing the theft of funds at the Maseru border.

“We have two different issues which we are dealing with pertaining to misconduct and criminal activity at the Maseru border toll gate. These cases were discovered during some random inspections. Two officers are involved and they have since been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.

“There is also a separate case wherein the Road Fund and LMPS are investigating into missing revenue at the toll gate. We are assisting in that probe but the matter is being dealt with by the Road Fund and the police,” Mr Mphana said.

On his part, the Road Fund CEO, Nkekeletse Makara, confirmed that there were ongoing investigations into the theft of revenue at the Maseru border.

“We will only be in a position to say how much was stolen, prefer charges and decide how best to recover the funds when the probe is complete,” said Mr Makara.

The alleged theft of funds comes against the background of the recent alleged embezzlement of a much higher M50 million by some officials in the Ministry of Finance.

The suspects are Lehlohonolo Selate, Ntšeliseng Lawrence, Mookho Rafono, Tlali Mokoaleli, Thabang Nkoe, Hlabathe Phafoli and Thithili Makhesi.

They are accused of siphoning M50 million from state coffers through a well-orchestrated scheme in which they inflated and diverted payments meant for suppliers to themselves and their phony companies which had not rendered any services to the state.  The fraud was facilitated by the various Ministry of Finance officials.

While the others have been granted bail, the Crown has been fighting to keep Mr Selate in custody.

He was originally denied bail when Chief Magistrate, ‘Matankiso Nthunya, released his fellow accused on bail last month.  He is still in custody but he has lodged another application to be freed on bail.

Mr Selate is the alleged mastermind in the M50 million theft from the finance ministry. He is a suspected career criminal, with a multitude of criminal cases going as far back as 2013.   One of his alleged major heists involved a case in 2018 in which he defrauded M17 million from Standard Lesotho Bank. The money was partly stolen from accounts held by various district councils at the bank.

Mr Selate is said to have used the same modus operandi in which he recruits insiders of an institution to help him facilitate fraud. In this case, he used the bank’s employees to help him divert funds to his phony companies. All the insiders involved were however detected and fired by the bank.

Mr Selate has also been involved in nearly a dozen other fraud cases in which he has allegedly defrauded various state and private institutions of millions including the Water and Sewerage Company (Wasco), National Manpower Development Secretariat, Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation, Maluti School of Nursing, among others.

He has not been tried in any of the cases because he has been inexplicably granted repeat bails at the magistrates’ court even after he previously skipped other bails. His records in the various criminal cases have also been recorded as having mysteriously gone missing.

It is understood that if Selate is released on bail this time, a spotlight will be cast upon judicial is responsible by prosecution authorities.

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