Metsing freed, but legal woes far from over

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

FUGITIVE former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing can breathe easy for now after being released on R4000 bail by the Ladybrand Magistrates’ Court.

This after the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader had spent three days behind bars after his arrest on the South African side of the Maseru Bridge border.

He was arrested on Saturday after he had gone to South African immigration officials to extend his stay in that country. He fled to South Africa in December 2021 to avoid standing trial for treason and murder alongside Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, former army commander Tlali Kamoli, army officers Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.

Although he still has those treason and murder charges hanging over his head, he was arrested on the basis of the previous Thomas Thabane administration’s 2018 application for his extradition to stand trial for corruption, fraud and tax evasion.    Those charges arose from his alleged role in facilitating an allegedly corrupt tender for roads construction in Maseru and the alleged kickbacks he got from the contractor.

Mr Metsing was freed on bail after Law and Justice Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane wrote to his South African counterpart, Ronald Lamola, stating that the Lesotho government did “not have any objection to the suspect being granted bail on the terms and conditions set by the court”.

However, his legal troubles are far from over.  A warrant for his arrest issued by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane after he absconded from court over the treason and murder charges in December 2021 is still outstanding.

It’s the existence of that warrant that, some legal experts argue, makes Advocate Rakuoane’s letter to Mr Lamola wholly incomprehensible.

An authoritative legal source said the warrant should have been used as an aggravating circumstance to oppose bail and expedite efforts to get Mr Metsing back into the country.

“How can a whole government minister ask a foreign government to release on bail a fugitive from justice who is on an arrest warrant?” asked the senior lawyer who requested anonymity for legal reasons.

“Our problem in Lesotho is that politics always takes centre stage. Metsing is a fugitive from justice. This should have been the perfect opportunity to have him repatriated back to appear before the courts that he is running away from.

“Rakuoane’s position is totally inexplicable. It’s illegal as he should be merely playing a facilitative role in extradition proceedings but leaving the issues of what happens in court to the DPP’s office. For him to write a letter asking a fugitive from justice to be released on bail without involving the DPP might earn him a criminal charge in future.”

Efforts to reach the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, on whether or not she had been consulted by Mr Rakuoane before he lobbied for Mr Metsing to be released on bail failed as she did not return phone calls. The DPP seems to have adopted a practice of ignoring the media, preferring to channel any issues through the courts only.

The senior lawyer interviewed, on condition of anonymity, said the fact that Mr Metsing had been arrested on an extradition warrant for separate charges than the latest ones for which he had absconded was irrelevant.

Circumstances had changed since Mr Metsing initially returned from exile before the execution of the 2018 extradition request and was not charged then due to some political arrangements. The fact is he was now a fugitive from justice on even more serious charges, the lawyer said. His arrest should thus have been treated as manna from heaven and used to coerce his return.

“What if he skips bail in SA and end up in Namibia or Botswana or even Sudan. What will Rakuoane do?   Rakuoane has set a bad precedent? Don’t be surprised if South Africa does not take us seriously in future if we ask for the extradition of criminals who routinely flee to that country,” the lawyer said.

Advocate Rakuoane told the Lesotho Times yesterday that the government   had engaged Mr Metsing and advised him “to purge his contempt of the High Court” by applying to the court to cancel the warrant for his arrest.

Mr Metsing had already applied to the court for the cancellation of the arrest warrant before his arrest by South African police. He has also asked the High Court in Lesotho to grant him bail and safe passage back into the country to stand trial. The application is pending.

Mr Metsing was asked to return back to court in Ladybrand on 2 August 2022 after he was bailed on Tuesday. He had spent three nights in custody.

The small Ladybrand courtroom was packed to the rafters by Mr Metsing’s red, green and black-clad LCD supporters.

Dressed in a black jacket, light blue shirt and black trousers, the LCD leader smiled at his followers from the dock. He seemed to carry himself with the air of one who had been assured of a positive fate ahead.

Noting that there were no objections from the Lesotho government, Magistrate Serame Sekoera granted the LCD leader M4000 bail which he promptly paid to secure his freedom.

Emerging from the courtroom, a triumphant Mr Metsing addressed a jubilant LCD crowd. Some onlookers also paused to listen as they sought to understand who this man, who had brought the court to a standstill, was.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the government of Lesotho for making my release possible by writing to the South African Minister of Justice, saying they no longer have an interest in my extradition which they had applied for in 2018,” Mr Metsing said.

“The government was right in saying this because I returned from exile in 2018 to participate in multi-sector reforms. There was a deadlock as the opposition parties were unwilling to proceed with the reforms without my participation.

“I thank the government of Lesotho for standing firm on this issue. I would like to thank the Prime Minister, his deputy and the Minister of Justice (Rakuoane) even if we may not see eye to eye on other issues…

“I’m grateful to the South African High Commissioner to Lesotho, Sello Moloto, who has always been with me through this journey. I want to thank South African police officers who have been good to me since I came here. I’m also grateful to you, LCD members, for always being there for me in my hour of need,” Mr Metsing said.

In his Monday letter to Mr Lamola which helped secure Mr Metsing’s release on bail, Adv Rakuoane wrote, “You will recall there was a request for (the) extradition… of Mothetjoa Metsing for him to be charged and prosecuted on charges of corruption, fraud and tax evasion”.

“It has come to the attention of the Kingdom of Lesotho that the suspect has been arrested and is due to appear before Ladybrand Magistrates’ Court. We wish to state that we do not have any objection to the suspect being granted bail on the terms and conditions set by the court. Your cooperation will be highly appreciated,” Adv Rakuoane wrote.

The LCD leader may have been granted bail with the help of Adv Rakuoane  but his legal challenges still appear far from over.

If his bid to have Chief Justice Sakoane’s December 2021 arrest warrant in the treason and murder trial set aside,   he will face certain arrest when he returns to Lesotho.  Fresh extradition proceedings might still remain possible if he remains in SA even if he wiggles out of the 2018 case for which he has been arrested.

A fortnight ago, Mr Metsing petitioned the High Court to cancel the warrant for his arrest. He also wants to be granted bail if he returns.

“This application seeks two related reliefs,” Mr Metsing states in his 22 June 2022 court application filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Motiea Teele.

“The first relief is the prayer for cancellation of the warrant of arrest issued by the Honourable Chief Justice Sakoane authorising my arrest for failure to appear before the court on the 6th of December 2021. The second relief is a prayer that I be admitted to bail on such terms and conditions that the court may deem appropriate,” Mr Metsing further states.

He says DPP Motinyane’s bid in January 2018 to join him to the treason and murder case alongside Kamoli and others was not lawful. This because it contravened the 2018 SADC-backed government-opposition agreement not to proceed with all “politically motivated trials” until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.

He said when he was eventually joined to the trial along with Mr Mochoboroane, he did not attend the 6 December 2021 court proceedings because his life was in danger. He does not say who was planning to kill him.  Mr Metsing was joined after he had repeatedly sought and failed to have the courts uphold the 2018 SADC brokered agreement which had paved way for his return. The courts persistently ruled that that political agreement had no standing in Lesotho’s legal system as it had not been incorporated into its statutes.

Meanwhile, Mr Metsing’s LCD is unhappy with unnamed government officials for allegedly plotting their leader’s weekend arrest in South Africa.

Addressing the media in Maseru yesterday, LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, said they were “hurt and unhappy” about Mr Metsing’s arrest.

“As the LCD we are not happy with the unlawful arrest of our leader and we are dead sure that there is something sinister that triggered his arrest on the basis of a 2018 extradition application.

“We suspect something sinister is happening behind the scenes and this could have triggered the sudden arrest of Ntate Metsing. He has been travelling all these years without being arrested in South Africa.

“We suspect that there are some people in government who are working to get Ntate Metsing. We are not happy and we are going to follow up on this issue,” Mr Mokhosi said.

 

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