THE Crown is fighting a spirited battle to have a key mastermind in the M50 million fraud case involving the Ministry of Finance kept in custody pending finalisation of his trial.
The suspect, Lehlohonolo Selate, was originally denied bail when Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya, released his fellow accused on bail about two weeks ago.
Mr Selate’s fellow suspects Ntšeliseng Lawrence, Mookho Rafono, Tlali Mokoaleli, Thabang Nkoe, Hlabathe Phafoli and Thithili Makhesi were each released on M5000 bail and 100 000 surety.
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.
Various media had incorrectly reported that Mr Selate had been granted bail on the same conditions as his co-accused. He still remains in jail after being arrested in a sting operation during which Ms Lawrence had withdrawn some cash from their illicit activities and was delivering it to Mr Selate in South Africa.
Mr Selate has now renewed his bid for bail and was back at the magistrates’ court yesterday. His bail bid will continue before magistrate Peter Murenzi tomorrow.
It has emerged that Mr Selate 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 cases have also been recorded as having mysteriously gone missing.
Mr Selate, who has acquired vast assets in Lesotho and South Africa, including various prime properties, some of which have now been successfully frozen by the Crown, was first arrested in 2012 when he allegedly defrauded Wasco of more than M1.1 million. He was to be subsequently arrested but absconded after being granted bail and did not pitch up for his trials. The magistrates court inexplicably granted him bail again after he was re-arrested.
In all his cases since 2012, Mr Selate has been represented by Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane, the same lawyer who is now in court for allegedly helping Mr Selate launder some of the M50 million proceeds.
Advocate Setlojoane however argues that he has done nothing wrong as the M100 000 he received from Mr Selate was payment for professional fees to represent the latter in the M50 million fraud case. He has promised to fight his case in the Constitutional Court.
Before Magistrate Murenzi yesterday, the Crown argued vehemently that a habitual offender, who has many pending cases of fraud, and who has absconded while on bail on previous occasions should not be granted bail at all. It would erode confidence in the justice system if Mr Selate, a key mastermind of one of the country’s major frauds, is granted bail as he would inevitably abscond again, in line with his habitual behaviour, the state argues.
The bail application continues tomorrow.