Mokete drops fresh ‘Maesaiah bombshell

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  • suggests she is responsible for the “suspicious” deaths of state witnesses in her murder trial,
  • insists she ought to be in remand prison and should never have been granted bail  

Staff Reporters

DEPUTY Commissioner of Police (DCP), Paseka Mokete, says that “several witnesses” have died under “suspicious” and “controversial circumstances” in the wake of the High Court’s June 2020 decision to grant bail to murder-accused former First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane.

DCP Mokete says more than 17 months later, the police are still baffled by the High Court’s decision to grant her bail as it has still not provided a written judgement detailing its reasons for rejecting demands that she remains incarcerated. The police had vigorously opposed bail, arguing the former First Lady would harm witnesses. But the High Court disagreed and released her on bail.

‘Maesaiah now wants her bail conditions relaxed but the police are vigorously opposing her latest bid.

DCP Mokete – in court papers detailing the police’s opposition – argues that any relaxation of her bail conditions would be catastrophic because the former First Lady is not only a flight risk but is likely to interfere with state witnesses and even endanger their lives.

Ms Thabane has been charged with the 14 June 2017 murder of her husband Thomas Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo.

She has also been charged with the attempted murder of Thato Sibolla, with whom Lipolelo had been travelling, when she was gunned down in cold blood at Ha ‘Masana, Maseru.

Ms Sibolla sustained some injuries in the shooting incident which occurred just two days before Mr Thabane’s inauguration for his second stint as premier.

Ms Thabane was initially granted bail by then acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase on 5 February 2020 but this was revoked by the Court of Appeal on 29 May 2020 after Ms Sibolla and Mr Thabane’s grandson, Thomas Thabane Jr argued that it was unprocedurally granted.

She launched a fresh application after she was jailed following the revocation of her bail. Her second and ultimately successful application was heard by the now deceased Judge Thamsanqa Nomngcongo.

In granting her bail in June 2020, Justice Nomngcongo said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, had failed to exercise her constitutional right to oppose the bail. He said DCP Mokete, who deposited an application on behalf of DPP Motinyane, had no right to do so.

In a potentially huge setback to the state case, Justice Nomngcongo said DCP Mokete and other witnesses’ affidavits were full of hearsay allegations. He also said Ms Sibolla, who had also filed an affidavit in support of DCP Mokete, had failed to link ‘Maesaiah and Mr Thabane to the crime.  Justice Nomngcongo came under fire on social media for his judgment with suggestions he had been inspired by ulterior motives in his obiter remarks which some viewed as belittling a heinous case of murder.

Mr Thabane has been slapped with the same murder charges but he is yet to plead, with the police and DPP Motinyane blaming each other for the lengthy delay.  Mr Thabane initially appeared in court in February 2020 but was not asked to plead. His lawyer, Qhalehang Letsika, raised a constitutional issue that Mr Thabane was immune from prosecution as long as he remained prime minister.   Magistrate Phethise Motanyane then referred the matter to the Constitutional Court for adjudication. But Mr Thabane and his lawyers never filed the Constitutional Court application.

Mr Thabane was then forced to resign as prime minister by his party in May 2020, with a powerful faction of his All Basotho Convention (ABC) then led by Professor Nqosa Mahao arguing that the country could not be ruled by a murder suspect.

Rumours spread after Mr Thabane’s resignation that he would be arrested as his constitutional argument had become moot.  Mr Thabane himself had predicted at a function at his house on 6 July 2020 that he was facing imminent arrest. However, that never happened with DCP Mokete saying he was “tying loose ends” before arresting Mr Thabane and taking him to court. That too did not happen. Since then, the police and the DPP’s office have been blaming each other with the police saying they while they had done their part and the DPP’s office was still not taking action. The DPP has lately not explained why she has not moved against the premier but at one stage, she too blamed the police for the delay, saying they had failed to cooperate with her on the matter, an allegation denied by the police.

Unconfirmed reports allege that the DPP had been persuaded by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro not to prosecute Mr Thabane because Dr Majoro is scared of alienating Mr Thabane’s supporters within the ABC as the current premier moves to consolidate his own position within the party and country ahead of elections next year.  Dr Majoro has not commented on these allegations.

Justice Nomngcongo had seized upon the police’s failure to arrest and charge Mr Thabane as an indication that they had no solid case against the ex-premier. The judge accused the police of “dropping” the ex-premier’s name in to the case “just for drama” in remarks that elicited more public criticism.

Ms Thabane is currently out on M10 000 bail and her bail conditions stipulate that she must report to the police every fortnight, notify them whenever she intends to travel outside the country, refrain from interfering with state witnesses and stand trial to finality.

She now feels the bail conditions are cumbersome and wants the court to order that she must stop reporting to the police every two weeks. She also wants the court to do away with the requirement for her to notify the police whenever she intends to travel outside the country. She says the requirements are “meaningless” and unnecessary as she has demonstrated over the past 17 months that she is not a flight risk and can be trusted to stand trial to finality.

Despite the seriousness of the charges she is facing, Ms Thabane has seemingly found a lighter side to her ordeal. She states that her bail papers are now full of police stamps and even the police are now “tired” of the sight of her continually reporting to them.

“Your petitioner and her husband have fixed properties in Lesotho and they are on pension and enjoying old age together with no intention of whatsoever to relocate for any reason whatsoever,” ‘Maesaiah, who is aged 42 and is 40 years her husband’s junior, states in her court papers.

“Your petitioner was on or about the 29th June 2020, a full year and five months ago, admitted to bail by this Honourable Court on the conditions as appears in the bail bond. Your petitioner has for the entire period aforementioned complied with all the bail conditions imposed on her. Notably she has been reporting to the police every fortnight. This reporting has become not only meaningless but extremely tedious not only to your petitioner but to the police as well.

“The police understandably are tired of seeing her and having to stamp her bail bond which is now full of stamps and they say so every time she reports. It has been stamped over 30 times. This means she has been to the police over 30 times for one and the same thing. Just like the police, she is tired and it is now evident that the reporting no longer serves any meaningful purpose as it is clear that she is here and here to stay.”

Ms Thabane pleads for a relaxation of the bail conditions, arguing that she has demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that she is willing and prepared to stand trial to finality.

“In the premises and on the facts, your petitioner avers that whenever required or summoned to come to court, she will do so and this is thus a proper case in which the bail conditions ought to be varied.

She then asks the court to vary her bail conditions to state that “… the petitioner shall be summoned to appear in court whenever the crown will be ready to proceed with the trial”.

This has however, not gone down well with DCP Mokete who foresees an “imminent danger” in relaxing Ms Thabane’s bail conditions.

He then suggests that she has been responsible for the deaths of some of the witnesses in the murder case after she was granted bail.  He does not say which of the witnesses have died. However, one of the key suspects, Famo musician, Rethabile Mokete, popularly known as Mosotho Chakela, died early this year after a short illness. He died in South Africa.

Chakela had become a wanted man after being named as one of the key suspects in the Lipolelo murder. He was named alongside fellow Famo musicians Seabata Sello, Macheli Koeshe, Molefi Matima and Sarele Sello.  Sarele has since turned into a state witness.

According to court papers filed in the High Court last year by DCP Mokete, Chakela was one of the hitmen who were allegedly hired by Ms Thabane and her husband to kill Lipolelo.

The Thabane couple allegedly promised to pay Lipolelo’s killers a staggering M3 million to get the job done, DCP Mokete claimed in his court papers.

They had allegedly only paid the killers M400 000 when the allegations against them blew up earlier in 2020.

In his latest court papers filed last week, DCP Mokete insists that Ms Thabane’s bail conditions should not be relaxed as they have enabled the police to keep an eye on an “exceptional” suspect who he insists should never have been granted bail in the first place.

“In view of the nature of the charges that the applicant (‘Maesaiah) faces…, I had projected the view that she was not supposed to get the bail in the first place. As it turned out, this Honourable Court overruled my opposition and admitted her to bail but there are no written reasons for the judgment to date,” DCP Mokete states in his court papers.

He argues the police were unhappy with the initial February 2020 decision by Justice Mahase to grant Ms Thabane bail hence why they challenged it in the Court of Appeal.

The police were not the only ones who were baffled by the High Court decision to award Ms Thabane bail, DCP Mokete states.

“One of the key witnesses, Ms Thato Sibolla publicly took an interview with Sophie Mokoena of SABC and expressed her concerns and frustrations about the decision to release the applicant on bail.

“I am going to apply for leave of this Honourable Court to play the televised interview of Ms Thato Sibolla on the hearing date so that this Honourable Court can take a peek about the perspective of victims in respect of the decision it took to grant the bail application (sic). It is only fair to demonstrate that the applicant was admitted to bail under circumstances which remain obscure to date.

“This then warranted the victims of the crime to approach the Court of Appeal to review the decision in a matter that culminated in the case registered under Thomas Motsoahae Thabane & 3 Others v Her Ladyship ‘Maseforo Mahase ACJ & 4 others C of A (CRI REV) NO.2/2020.

“I filed a supporting affidavit in this matter and my version was set in sufficient factual context to convey disapproval of the decision to grant the applicant bail in acceptable detail. The decision of this Honourable Court to grant bail was reviewed and set aside and the petition was referred back to this Honourable Court to be determined by a different judge,” DCP Mokete said.

He argues that the apex court judgement confirmed his views that Ms Thabane remained a flight risk as she had initially skipped the country when it had become apparent that the police wanted to arrest her and charge her with Lipolelo’s murder in January 2020. He said she only returned and was arrested in early February 2020 when it had become clear that the net was closing in on her.

“The reading of the aforesaid (Court of Appeal) judgement confirms that the applicant is an exceptional character whose conditions of bail have to curb the risks of flight and evidence tempering. The central point is that this Honourable Court had the benefit of reading the aforesaid judgment when it fixed the bail conditions. The bail application was opposed.

“In my considered view, it is respectfully suggested that this present case is an abuse of court’s process and it appears to me that the issues raised in this application are trial issues which applicant seeks to have decided in advance of and outside of the trial. This is a relevant consideration for the safety of the state witnesses against imminent danger that may result from the relaxed bail conditions of the applicant.  I have formed an opinion that owing to possible interference or intimidation of crown witnesses, it is risky that the bail conditions of applicant be relaxed.

“As will be seen in the trial, many state witnesses have since passed away under controversial circumstances after the applicant had been released on bail. In all the circumstances, the element of potential prejudice as articulated in the views of Ms Sibolla is very material to the opinion that the police have formed about the suspicious deaths of witnesses to pervert the course of justice.

“In my experience as an investigator and from a practical and common-sense point of view and bearing in mind details surrounding the death of Mrs Lipolelo Thabane, relaxing the bail conditions simply serves to boost the ego of the applicant.

“I must confirm that there is no proof that the police are tired of monitoring compliance with the bail conditions of applicant. It is their duty to do so. In any event, I supervised compliance of the applicant with the bail conditions…and I confirm that her reporting to the police in terms of scheduled periods serves a meaningful purpose of oversight,” DCP Mokete argues.

DCP Mokete is not alone in raising concerns about High court judges’ failure to provide written judgements detailing the reasons for their verdicts. Even the Court of Appeal has repeatedly slammed the judges, saying without written judgements they were unable to hear appeals and make informed decisions.

During her tenure as acting chief justice, Judge Mahase specifically complained about Justice Nomngcongo’s alleged failure to issue written judgments.

At the time, she said she was even contemplating disciplinary action against the now deceased judge.

The police accuse Mr Thabane and his wife of plotting the murder of Lipolelo to smoothen ‘Maesaiah’s path to become First Lady.  Lipolelo had been estranged from Mr Thabane but she had won the right to be recognised as the real First Lady because her long running divorce case with Mr Thabane had not been finalised.

Lipolelo was then murdered on the eve of Mr Thabane’s inauguration for his second stint as Prime Minister. The police insist the only motive for her murder was to pave way for the “impatient” ‘Maesaiah to become First Lady as the courts had declared that only Lipolelo qualified for benefits of that position. With divorce cases generally taking a long time to conclude in Lesotho, ‘Maesaiah is accused of having opted for the “quickest” and “easiest” way out in eliminating Lipolelo.

But the former First Lady vigorously denies the allegations which came to light when police commissioner wrote to Mr Thabane asking him to explain why his cellphone number had allegedly been used in communications detected during the commission of the crime.   Mr Thabane had then tried to fire Commissioner Molibeli but the latter was saved by the courts.

If her husband’s phone had been used during the commission of the crime, then it was the duty of the husband to answer for that and not her, Ms Thabane has argued in her defence.

Mr Thabane denies the allegations which transfixed the world when they were first made. In a previous interview with the Lesotho Times, the ex- prime minister said he and his younger third wife had not plotted the assassination because “we don’t kill people”.  His declaration of innocence was however not enough to help him keep his job as prime minister. He however remains ABC leader, thanks to the never-ending factionalism in the ABC.  Sources say Mr Thabane will cling on until he has secured the passage of his preferred successor thought to be either Samonyane Ntsekele, Lebohang Hlaele or Prince Maliehe. The ex-premier is said to be now vehemently opposed to Dr Majoro taking over from him, partly due to differences that arise from the constant squabbling in the ABC.

Authoritative sources say Mr Thabane has even enticed party deputy secretary general and agriculture minister, Nkaku Kabi, to consider succeeding him. But this is more to try and weaken Dr Majoro as the ex-premier does not fully believe in Mr Kabi’s abilities. Mr Kabi, a once powerful supporter of Mr Thabane, is described as the typical Machiavelli who plays his political game carefully and straddles all the factions though he appears more aligned to Dr Majoro’s camp.

 

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