Mochoboroane wants swift treason and murder trial

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. . . says speedy trial will enable him to switch focus to more pressing matters of national development  

Mohalenyane Phakela

MOVEMENT for Economic Change (MEC) leader and Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane is hoping for a speedy treason and murder trial to enable him to switch focus to “more pressing matters of national development”.

Mr Mochoboroane said this Monday after making his much-anticipated court appearance to face treason and murder charges alongside former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.

A sixth suspect, opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, was also supposed to be in the dock but he did not show up amid rumours that he had fled the country.

For over a year, Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane fought tooth and nail, including filing numerous, ultimately unsuccessful applications to stop the state from joining them to the charges alongside Lieutenant General Kamoli and others. The police have since launched a manhunt for the fugitive Mr Metsing following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane on Monday.

After the charges were read to Mr Mochoboroane and his other accused, Justice Sakoane postponed the trial to 13 December 2021 to allow the state to furnish the minister and his co-accused with outstanding witness statements to enable them to effectively prepare their defence.

Mr Mochoboroane and his co-accused are facing charges of murdering Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko, the attempted murder of Letsekang Mothibeli and five counts of the aggravated assault of Sergeant Mahanetsa, Lance Sergeant Thabisa Kopa, Lance Sergeant Thamae, Police Constable (PC) Mokete Litulo and PC ‘Mone.

Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane, Lt-Gen Kamoli and Captain Nyakane are further accused of treason and the attempted murder of PC Moeketsi and Sub-Inspector Joele.

All the charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

Mr Metsing was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Mr Mochoboroane was communications minister and LCD secretary general.

Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Mr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before orchestrating the attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane, Captain Nyakane and Lance Corporals Ntsane and Motsieloa. Messrs Thabane and Metsing had fallen out with the latter alleging he was not being consulted on key decisions.

Although the charges were read to them on Monday, Mr Mochoboroane and others were not asked to plead with Justice Sakoane saying they had to be first served with outstanding statements from 24 witnesses.

Justice Sakoane also asked the prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, whether it would be prudent to separate the trials, bearing in mind that Lance Corporals Ntsane and Motsieloa were not accused of some of the charges including treason.

“Will it be fair for some of the accused to come to court and listen to the evidence which does not relate to them? Are they not entitled to a separation of trials? The problem is that you (Abrahams) are only focusing on the convenience of the Crown. Justice is not one-sided.  You have to afford the accused the highest level of fairness of the trial in terms of section 12 of the Constitution,” Justice Sakoane said.

Advocate Abrahams then argued that it was in the interests of justice for all the accused to be jointly tried because the state witnesses who had been lined up to testify in relation to the treason charges would also give evidence on the rest of the charges.

“About 70 percent of the witnesses will testify in relation to all the charges. It would be appropriate that all the charges be dealt with together. It will be in the best interests of justice that the witnesses testify in a single trial. We contemplated this issue (separation of the trial) long and hard but the evidence in the murder charge is relevant to the treason charge,” Adv Abrahams said.

Other defence lawyers, Advocates Napo Mafaesa and Lepeli Molapo, also weighed in on the issue, saying their clients could not plead to the charges because they had pending applications for the separation and permanent stay of the trials.

Their applications were filed before Botswana Judge Onkemetse Tshosa who had been recruited as one of the foreign judges to try high profile cases involving politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies. Justice Tshosa resigned in August this year before delivering judgements in the applications.

Justice Sakoane then postponed the treason and murder trial to 13 December 2021. He also said that the motions which were filed before Justice Tshosa should immediately be brought before him so that he disposes of all pre-trial issues as he intended to speedily adjudicate the treason and murder case.

Unlike Mr Metsing who decided not to show up, Mr Mochoboroane appears unfazed by the seriousness of the charges which attract capital punishment in the event of a guilty verdict.

Such is the confidence of the MEC leader that he is impatient for the trial to be speedily concluded to enable him to get back to what he says are more pressing issues of national development ahead of next year’s elections.

When he emerged from the court building early afternoon on Monday, Mr Mochoboroane was greeted by deafening screams from his supporters who had gathered outside the building from as early as 7am.

Addressing them via a public address system which had been erected for the purpose, Mr Mochoboroane urged them not to cause any trouble and obey police instructions at all times. This was in reference to social media reports that his supporters would throng the court building and cause commotion to protest the charges against their leader.

“I thank you for obeying the orders of the police force. I was saddened by statements that you would come here to cause trouble,” Mr Mochoboroane said in his address to the dozens of supporters clad in the blue and white colours of his party.

“The case has not been heard and we are coming back on the 13th (December 2021). We need this case to be heard so let us allow the courts to do their job. Let us go to the communities and work. We need to emancipate this country from the hands of thieves. We should work hard for this country to be free from its troubles. Thieves have stolen money and they have come up with the treason charges. Lesotho does not have money because the thieves have looted that money. I cannot say much but I thank you for your support,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

Mr Mochoboroane also took to Twitter to express his readiness to stand trial and his wish for a speedy conclusion of the matter to enable him to get back to his work.

“When the courts call, I’ll always answer,” he said in a 10.37 am tweet which was accompanied by a picture of him and his lawyer strolling towards the courtroom.

“Let us go to trial and put this behind us. There’s a lot of work we need to focus on that’s in the best interest of our country,” he added in another tweet posted at 2.18pm.

From early morning, it was very clear that a momentous occasion was in the offing at the High Court.

Normally, not more than 20 police officers are stationed at the court building on a daily basis. But on Monday, there were reinforcements from the Special Operations Unit and riot control. The MEC supporters had turned the area surrounding the court building into a veritable sea of blue and white as they sought to give their leader moral support.

Unwilling to take any chances, the police barred them from entering the court building and cordoned off the area. Unfazed, the MEC supporters chanted and sang various songs including one in which they vowed, “we are faced with a war, we should fight this war”.

Only a handful of LCD members showed up, including the party’s secretary general, Teboho Sekata, who said he was “shocked” by Mr Metsing’s no show.

“I last saw him yesterday (Sunday) during our meeting and we were shocked when he did not show up today. I have not spoken to him since yesterday,” Mr Sekata said.

The LCD subsequently addressed a press conference, saying they would pull out of the multi-sector reforms to protest the pressing of charges against their leader.

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