THE trial of eight army officers accused of murdering former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, has taken a new twist amid revelations that more soldiers will be arraigned before the courts while others will be turned into state witnesses.
The latest developments were revealed on Tuesday by Senior Crown Counsel, Lesaoana Mohale, during the remand hearing of the eight army officers who stand accused of murdering Lt-Gen Mahao in June 2015.
The eight army officers are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Lt-Gen Mahao was on 25 June 2015 assassinated by his former LDF colleagues who claimed he had resisted arrest for allegedly being the ringleader of a mutiny.
However, Lt-Gen Mahao’s nephews — who were with him during the incident – disputed the army’s version of the event and instead accused the soldiers of killing him in cold blood.
A Southern Africa Development Community commission of inquiry set up soon after the killing also quashed the LDF’s mutiny plot claim, citing lack of evidence.
Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed as LDF commander on 29 August 2014 after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired the then commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli for alleged insubordination. However, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli rejected the dismissal challenging its legitimacy.
After Dr Thabane relinquished power in the wake of the 28 February 2015 snap elections, the seven-party coalition government led by Pakalitha Mosisili reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal.
Lt Gen Kamoli was reinstated in a Government Gazette dated 21 May 2015 with another gazette issued on the same day terminating Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander and reverting him to a brigadier.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court with the case not seeing the light of day after he was killed on 25 June 2015 by his LDF colleagues.
After two years without any movement on the case, the eight soldiers were arrested and first appeared before the Magistrates’ Court early last month. They have been attending remand hearings before the same court every two weeks.
And on Tuesday, Advocate Mohale told the Magistrate’s Court that more army officers would be joined to the case.
He also said the prosecution intended to turn some of the soldiers into accomplice witnesses. These soldiers were previously brought in for questioning by the police and released.
An accomplice witness is a witness who took part in the commission of an alleged offence and his or her role is to give evidence as to how the offence was committed and who was involved.
The eight soldiers were remanded in custody and will next appear in court on 16 January 2018.
The latest developments come barely a week after Lt-Gen Mahao’s family announced they wanted former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Lt-Gen Kamoli to be also held accountable for his death.
The Mahao’s family said the trio should be held accountable for Lt-Gen Mahao’s death as they held influential positions in the government at the time of his assassination.
Lt-Gen Kamoli, was arraigned in the Magistrate’s Court on 16 October 2017, charged with one count of murder and 14 counts of attempted murder.
The murder charge is for the fatal shooting of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko during the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
A number of soldiers, under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command, had stormed various police stations and seized arms they claimed were to be used against civilians at a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) rally that same weekend. However, Dr Thabane’s government charged that Lt-Gen Kamoli launched his coup attempt in reaction to his dismissal by the Prime Minister a day earlier.
Three other army officers namely, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane (38), Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane (34) and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa (31) are charged with Lt-Gen Kamoli in the murder of Sub-Inspector Ramahloko. The three are in detention with Lt-Gen Kamoli at the Maseru Maximum Prison.
The 14 attempted murder charges stem from the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
Mr Metsing is in self-imposed exile having fled the country in August 2017 alleging that he feared for his life.
However, Dr Thabane rejected Mr Metsing’s claims in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times that same month. The premier described Mr Metsing as a “fugitive from justice” who had run away to avoid being arrested and jailed over allegations that he took bribes from a company, Bravo Construction, in exchange of lucrative road construction tenders.