NATIONAL Security Service (NSS) Director-General Pheello Ralenkoane has accused former Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa of the murder of a police officer Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016.
The murder of Police Constable (PC) Ketheng was one of the egregious cases of human rights abuses to plague Lesotho at the height of excesses by security officials aligned to various ruling coalition political parties between 2015 and 2017. That period marked the height of Lesotho’s descend into political chaos, prompting the intervention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The Khetheng murder is still in the courts. Mr Ralenkoane said while he could not speak much about it, he could at this stage confidently state that former police commissioner Letsoepa was the mastermind of the murder.
Mr Letsoepa fled to South Africa after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was returned to power in the June 2017 snap elections. Mr Thabane had appointed Holomo Molibeli to replace Mr Letsoepa as the head of the police.
Senior security officials – who had been responsible for the reign of terror against Mr Thabane’s supporters during the period 2015 and 2017 – including former army commander Tlali Kamoli, had suddenly found themselves on the back foot after Mr Thabane’s return to power in 2017. Kamoli is still languishing in jail after he was arrested.
Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, the NSS boss at the time, also fled as the new Thabane coalition sought to hold all those accused of human rights abuses accountable.
While Kamoli and others have been in prison since their arrests in 2017, Lekhooa and Letsoepa have long avoided the clutches of the law. This after their decision to flee the country after Mr Thabane had taken over.
They nonetheless emerged recently to speak to local media for the first ever time. They questioned Mr Ralenkoane’s fitness to hold office as head of the spy agency after he stood for elections as a Basotho National Party (BNP) candidate for the Rothe constituency in the 2017 elections.
But after the BNP came back into the Thabane coalition after those 2017 elections, Mr Ralenkoane was appointed to replace Mr Lekhooa.
Messrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa now argue that that should have never happened. This because the office of heading the spy agency should never be occupied by a politician.
But Mr Ralenkoane disagrees. While he does not deny his political role then, he says he ceased being involved in politics after his appointment.
He berates Messrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa as criminals who should come back to Lesotho to face justice over the many crimes they committed at the height of Lesotho’s descend into chaos between 2015 and 2017.
Messrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa had also accused Mr Ralenkoane of illegally firing 77 youths whom former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s coalition had recruited into the NSS between 2016 and 2017.
The duo claims the 77 youths were fired in 2018 because of Mr Ralenkoane’s partisan politics. But Mr Ralenkoane claims he fired the 77 because they had been irregularly appointed. The 77 had been functionaries of the political parties in power before the 2017 elections. They had been appointed unlawfully as part of a “jobs for the boys” scheme.
The fired officers later challenged their dismissals by Mr Ralenkoane in court. The NSS boss was vindicated after the courts upheld their dismissals.
But Messrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa still insist that these 77 should not have been dismissed. The duo also accused Mr Ralenkoane of various cases of malfeasance which they did not fully disclose during the radio interview.
Mr Ralenkoane nonetheless insists that he is a clean man. He instead brands Messrs Lekhooa and Letsoepa as “criminals on the run” who must “come home to face the music.”
Mr Ralenkoane accused Mr Letsoepa of being the mastermind behind the 2016 murder of PC Mokalekale Khetheng.
PC Khetheng disappeared mysteriously only for his body to be dumped at Ha-Mokhalinyane in Maseru. His body was hidden for a year before he was buried at the Lepereng Cemetery in Maseru with other unidentified corpses.
PC Khetheng’s remains were eventually exhumed at Lepereng Cemetery on 11 August 2017 after a court order for his exhumation. The details of why he was murdered are still to be known as his case is still pending in the courts. He was nonetheless murdered at the height of atrocities in Lesotho between 2015 and 2017. He was accused of having committed arson on the houses of his seniors. That accusation has never been fully explained.
Mr Letsoepa was due to have been among the officers charged with PC Khetheng’s murder. The former police boss however escaped before he was arraigned.
Mr Ralenkoane now insists that Mr Letsoepa was the mastermind behind the murder.
He said given his job as the spy boss, he had a lot of information about the role played by Mr Letsoepa in PC Khetheng’s murder. But he said he would refrain from saying much since the matter was still in the courts.
Still he was adamant that Mr Letsoepa should return home “so that he can go and join the rest of his friends in jail”.
“Letsoepa ran to South Africa and remains in hiding. If he is clean, then why did he run away. He has threatened to spill the beans against me but he has nothing of substance against me…He is just a criminal trying to get himself some cover….,” Mr Ralenkoane said.
“I am the intelligence boss. I have all this information about his involvement in the Khetheng murder. It’s just that I cannot say much because the case is in the courts…”
Mr Ralenkoane also accused Mssrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa of having illegally seconded two police officers to the NSS to help with intelligence work.
He said the secondment should never have happened. He cited it among the many transgressions of Mssrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa. Mr Ralenkoane has since returned the two to the LMPS.
The NSS boss said Messrs Letsoepa and Lekhooa were out to attack him because they feared he had information and intelligence that could further sink them. Their attacks were therefore a pre-emptive strike to try and silence him. But he vowed their tactics would fail.
Mr Letsoepa had appointed officers to the LMPS on the basis of favouritism, thereby eroding its effectiveness, the NSS boss charged.
“The divisions in the police force are heightened now and this is all because of the seeds sown by Letsoepa. This Letsoepa was a disastrous man” Mr Ralenkoane said.
“These two men who were once entrusted with the security of this country, but instead decided to engage in criminal activities, are attacking me just because I have some damning information on them. Their attacks on different media platforms might be meant to instil fear in me and my officers or to demoralise me, but I won’t allow it,” Mr Ralenkoane said.
“I won’t be pushed into a corner by people who failed dismally to discharge their mandates in the institutions they were entrusted to head. Not today and not tomorrow; and I also won’t allow them to degrade my officers like they did with the NSS public relations officer (Limpo Gugushe) , who is young enough to be their daughter, by calling her a drunkard when she stood up to protect the name of the institution that she is serving.”
Ms Gugushe was attacked by the two former security bosses after she had gone on air to explain issues in the NSS and to call them to order.
Describing his predecessor, Mr Lekhooa, as a stupid man and weakling, Mr Ralenkoane defended his decision to fire the 77 officers that he said Mr Lekhooa had illegally hired.
“The NSS has its recruitment policy, which Lekhooa did not follow. That is why we fired these (77) officers…He (Lekhooa) had hired them illegally.”
The recruitment policy, Mr Ralenkoane said, clearly stipulated the requirements for applicants who wished to serve in the NSS, such as their age, qualifications, and behaviour. Mr Lekhooa had nonetheless recruited the officers “without following standard procedures”.
“The courts have concurred with me that the recruitment laws were flouted and now people are trying to demonise me and paint me as the cruellest person in this country. Why is Lekhooa going to town with this matter now on radio stations, when he has never offered any evidence that he followed the law in recruiting them….? Asked Mr Ralenkoane.
“They (Letsoepa and Lekhooa) are drunk and frustrated by being away from their homes because of their criminality, and they are shifting their drunkenness on to my officers. No one chased them out of the country, but they ran away from their ill deeds.
“Lekhooa further says he is the one who established the Counterintelligence Unit; he is lying. The NSS long had that in place. What he established is what was called Team20…. You can all attest that so many people were killed by that team.”
All that Mr Lekhooa and his bosses ever wanted, Mr Ralenkoane alleged, was to militarise the NSS. That explained why the fired 77 recruits had been given military instead of intelligence training.
A lot of people had lost their lives as a result of the activities of Messrs Lekhooa and Letsoepa, the NSS boss claimed. The two must thus return home and face the music.