Magistrates jailed for bribes

MASERU — Two magistrates who were convicted of defeating the ends of justice were on Tuesday sentenced to one year jail term each.

High Court judge Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane sentenced ‘Mampai Lesupi, 35, and Itumeleng Letsika, 38, to one year in jail or alternatively pay a fine of M10 000 each.

The two magistrates were found guilty of tampering with court records to allow a South African national, Stephen Dlamini, who was facing charges of fraud, to escape from prison in 2005.

Dlamini was last week slapped with a 62-year jail sentence for defrauding the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) of M2.8 million in 2004.

Lesupi and Letsika were accused of receiving bribes from Dlamini to tamper with the records to make it appear as if his fraud charges had been withdrawn.

Dlamini was subsequently released and fled to the United Kingdom in 2006.

He was however re-arrested two years later when he came back to Lesotho.

Immediately after the sentence on Monday, defence lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele KC, immediately filed an application asking that the duo be given sufficient time to raise the fine.

The court agreed to give the two a grace period of 14 days.

Advocate Guido Penzhorn SC who was representing the crown did not have any objections to the application.

“In most cases where the court gives an option of a fine, the feeling is not to imprison the accused. The fact that they are professionals and have been convicted is enough punishment,” Justice Hlajoane said.

Justice Hlajoane in sentencing the magistrates pointed out that the two were still young and that their chances of practising law were now dim following their conviction.

She took into account some of the mitigating factors which were raised by the two’s lawyers, including that the crime of defeating the ends of justice was rare in Lesotho.

The legal representatives also submitted that the court had not considered the question of the crime’s prevalence.

Quoting from similar cases in other jurisdictions, Justice Hlajoane said Lesupi and Letsika were entrusted with the duty of driving the wheels of justice, but they helped Dlamini escape from lawful custody.

The judge said the crown produced a court record showing that Dlamini failed to appear in court after he was remanded.

However, the judge said it would have been aggravating if Dlamini had not been re-arrested.

Reacting to the argument by defence lawyer Advocate Teele that the High Court was neglecting its advisory role, the judge dismissed this suggestion.

She said the court still does its duties through the review of cases sent by magistrates to the court.

“Convicting a professional is enough deterrence. The court considers the time and anguish you suffered while waiting for the case,” Justice Hlajoane said.

Speaking after the sentence, Letsika insisted she was innocent.

“I am not satisfied because I still say I am innocent. The people who tampered with the records are known and are still out there, and one has been transferred,” Letsika said.

Dlamini was last Friday sentenced to 62 years in prison for defrauding the LHDA of M2.4 million.

He was also found guilty of bribing the two magistrates in a bid to defeat the ends of justice. Dlamini will however serve only 15 years in jail because some sentences will run concurrently.

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