M41 million recovered from fraud suspects: Molibeli
POLICE Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, says they have recovered about M41 million out of the M49, 5 million looted from the Ministry of Finance in recent months.
To date, nine people have been charged with fraud and money laundering in connection with the looting of the money.
These are Lehlohonolo Selate, Ntšeliseng Lawrence, Mookho Rafono, Tlali Mokoaleli, Thabang Nkoe, Hlabathe Phafoli, Thithili Makhesi, Maqoboto Lepolesa and Fako Molefe. They have all appeared before Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya who released them on M5000 bail and M100 000 surety each.
Addressing the media in Maseru this week, Commissioner Molibeli said police investigations into the matter were at an advanced stage. So far, M41 million had been recovered in cash and assets acquired from the proceeds of the crime, he said.
“I just want to report that the investigations are at advanced stage and there are nine people who have appeared in court,” Commissioner Molibeli said.
“The money and assets that have been recovered are worth M41 million. The M41 million is inclusive of liquid cash and assets such as cars and land. Investigations are ongoing. The police, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) are all working together to ensure that the investigations are thoroughly done.
“We are grateful to South Africa for the good working relations which have helped recover this money. However, the biggest challenge is that of preventing such crimes,” he said.
On his part, Senior Superintendent, Piti Khutlang, who is investigating the matter, said, “the liquid cash that we have so far recovered is M37 995 388, 21 and the assets that include houses, land and cars amount to M3 964 332, 18.
“Some of the money is being held in bank accounts which have been frozen while some of it had been used to purchase properties in South Africa.
“There are procedures that are being followed to ensure that the monies held in the South African banks are handed back to Lesotho,” SSP Khutlang said.
According to the charge sheet, the nine suspects defrauded the government of M49 497 972, 72 “by purporting to pay for services rendered to the government whereas it was for their own personal gain”.
“Upon or about the period between October 2020 and September 2021 in the Maseru district, the said accused persons did unlawfully and with the intent to defraud, misrepresent to the Central Bank of Lesotho and the Ministry of Finance.
“The Ministry of Finance had authorised the transfer of M49 497 972,72 from the expenditure account to different companies’ accounts held by Nivana Holdings Pty Ltd, Traggulogy Pty Ltd, Stone Curlew Holdings Pty Ltd, Sunny Penny Pty Ltd, Victorious General Dealer, Moletsima General Dealer, Hazel Nuts General Dealer and Plexus Suppliers Pty Ltd.
“The accused were not the proper and lawful beneficiaries to the said funds and they knew at all material times that they had made representations which were false. By means of the said misrepresentation, the accused persons prejudiced the parties (government and rightful beneficiaries) to the amount of M49 497 972, 72.
“Therefore, the accused persons are guilty of the crimes of fraud and money laundering,” the charge sheet states.
Prominent lawyer, Rethabile Setlojoane, was supposed to be joined to the case. This after receiving a M100 000 payment from his client, Selate, who is among the accused. However, Adv Setlojoane’s legal representatives, Salemane Phafane and Qhalehang Letsika argued that he could not be joined to the accused for simply receiving money from a client who is an accused person. He was therefore not charged and granted leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court to stop the state from joining him to the list of accused.
However, this did not stop the police from obtaining a court order to freeze Adv Setlojoane’s Standard Lesotho Bank Account, along with some assets belonging to the other accused persons. He has since launched a High Court application to nullify the 13 October 2021 order which blocked his account. The application is yet to be heard.
The DCEO successfully petitioned the High Court for an order to seize property of some of the accused persons. These include M200 000 cash held at Boliba Savings and Credit by Ms Lawrence, M179 086 from Adv Setlojoane’s bank account, M100 000 held at Standard Lesotho Bank belonging to Plexus Suppliers, M50 000 held at Nedbank Lesotho by Thabo Matlali, M43 000 held at Standard Lesotho Bank by Montessori International School and M40 000 held at FNB Lesotho by Mojela Rafono.
Other seized assets are a Hyundai Station Wagon vehicle, a VW Polo, a 2004 Honda Elysion, a 2006 Honda Elysion, an Audi A7 Quattro S-line, an Audi A4 hatchback, an OPPO Mobile phone, an iPad 32G and immovable property situated at Ha-Thetsane.