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Mashai caught at last

by Lesotho Times
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MASERU — Makotoko Lerotholi, the chief suspect in last month’s foiled attempt on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s life, has been arrested, the Lesotho Times can reveal.

Lerotholi, popularly known as Mashai, was arrested on May 8 in Pretoria, South Africa, ending his two-year-long run from the law.

The police suspect Lerotholi (pictured) was the gang leader of about 20 bandits who allegedly kidnapped six soldiers and stole guns from Makoanyane Barracks before launching an attack on State House in the wee hours of the morning on April 22.

Police say Lerotholi was part of the group of men that attacked ministers’ houses during political disturbances that rocked Lesotho in June 2007.

Lerotholi has been on the run since June 2007 when he escaped from police custody and fled to South Africa.

He is being held at Pretoria Central Prison awaiting an extradition hearing to bring him back to Lesotho.

He appeared at the Pretoria Magistrates Court on May 11 and the case was postponed to last Monday.

His lawyer, Advocate Haae Phoofolo, was with him when he appeared in court for the second time.

Phoofolo told the Lesotho Times that the matter was postponed again to June 9 because the court was still waiting for a formal extradition request from Lesotho.

For a former military man who has been on the run for nearly two years, Lerotholi’s arrest in Pretoria was somewhat too easy as he literary handed himself to the police.

Lerotholi told Phoofolo that he “had heard through the grapevine that someone was hunting him down to kill him and decided to seek refuge at a police station in Pretoria”.

He said instead of giving him the protection he was requesting police officers at the station promptly produced a warrant for his arrest.

They immediately arrested him.

The warrant of arrest was issued by the government of Lesotho on April 27 and forwarded to the South African police, according to Phoofolo.

Phoofolo said he was going to oppose efforts to extradite Lerotholi to Lesotho.

“We will oppose the extradition request,” Phoofolo said yesterday.

“Lerotholi made it clear that he did not want to return to Lesotho.”

He said his client was “actually surprised that he was wanted in Lesotho in connection with the April 22 attack on State House”.

“He denies liability. He is actually surprised,” Phoofolo said.

“He said he was aware of the allegations but flatly denies any participation in the attacks.

“He said he did not have the courage to carry out such an attack.”

Phoofolo said Lerotholi looked physically well but sounded incoherent and unstable.

“He does not sound stable. He is disturbed and stressed,” he said.

“He told me that this mental condition was as a result of the torture that he suffered at the hands of the soldiers in 2007.

“He said he has not been well since then.”

Lerotholi also told Phoofolo that he was still traumatised by the alleged torture.

“My client said he is bitter that he is being hunted down while the people who tortured him for three weeks are still free in Lesotho,” he said.

Phoofolo will be dealing with the case but has since appointed an attorney in Pretoria to be on standby should any emergency matter arise.

To bring Lerotholi back home there has to be a hearing in which the Lesotho government will have to justify its request for extradition.

Lerotholi can oppose the extradition request.

Phofoolo said extradition will be a complete case on its own.

“We shall have to wait until the government has finished compiling its report statements and summoning its witnesses, so it is not certain as to what is the next step,” said Phoofolo.

Independent lawyers say the extradition case might take months to conclude.

Lesotho almost plunged into chaos when a group of assailants suspected to be hired mercenaries mostly from Mozambique and South Africa attacked State House in an attempt to assassinate Mosisili.

Four of the assailants were killed by Lesotho’s armed forces while two were arrested before they could flee the country.

Seven other men were arrested by the South Africa police around the Ladybrand border town area.

The two arrested in Lesotho are Solomon Mabasa from South Africa and Antonio Joseses Lopes from Mozambique.

They appeared in court two weeks ago facing two charges of robbery and seven counts of kidnapping.

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