PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s office has dismissed allegations that the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Borotho Matsoso, was forced out of office because he instituted investigations into the alleged M7 million fraud at the Lesotho Post Bank which is said to involve some senior government officials.
The Press Attaché in the Prime Minister’s Office, Thabo Thakalekoala, recently told the Lesotho Times that while it was Dr Thabane’s prerogative to renew or terminate the contracts of public officers without providing reasons for his decisions, the allegations that Adv Matsoso was sent packing because of the M7 million fraud investigation were baseless.
Adv Matsoso was sent on forced leave on 22 February ahead of the expiry of his contract on 30 June 2019. The four-months forced leave means that Adv Matsoso’s tenure at the helm of the anti-corruption agency, which began in June 2013, is effectively over as his contract will not be renewed. This was despite the fact that Adv Matsoso had written to the government expressing his desire to have his contract renewed.
“It (the forced leave) came as a shock to us at the DCEO as we were not expecting it,” Adv Matsoso said.
“My contract expires at the end of June and I followed the standard procedure where an employee writes to their employer indicating that their contract is expiring and they are available to continue serving (in the same capacity),” Adv Matsoso said.
He said the government replied to his letter on 19 February and informed him that his contract would not be renewed. He said he had been “shocked” to learn from the same letter that the government had decided to send him on forced leave for the four months leading up to the expiry of his contract.
Although Dr Thabane did not give reasons for the move, some sources close to the developments said the DCEO boss was prematurely shown the door because he had ordered investigations into the scam in which at least five Lesotho Post Bank staffers are suspected to have been involved in defrauding one of its clients, Meriti Holdings, of M7 million.
Lesotho Post Bank’s Chief of Credit, Themba Sopeng, has been indefinitely suspended from work over the alleged fraud which the sources say also sucks in some senior government officials.
Sources privy to the matter said the money was transferred from an account belonging to Meriti Holdings on 23 January 2019 into one belonging to a Teboho Construction held with another local bank.
The sources say the scam happened on the same day when the Meriti Holdings account holders had just submitted a new shareholding structure to the bank and were expecting more funds to be transferred into their account.
Previously, Teboho Mothebesoane controlled 490 shares in Meriti Holdings while Xao Fung owned 510 shares. However, on 15 January 2019, Mr Mothebesoane became the sole shareholder of the company controlling all 1000 shares.
“On 23 January Meriti Holdings came to change their account signatories for their account at the bank and started following up on payments which they were expecting,” a source close to the bank said.
“It is then that that they received notifications of funds being transferred from their account instead of the account being credited with new deposits. The notifications showed that the transfers were being made into an account owned by Teboho Construction held with a local bank,” the source added.
Both Meriti Holdings and Teboho Construction have had close ties with the premier’s Head of Special Projects and Special Envoy and Trade Advisor on China-Asia Trade Network, Yan Xie.
According to documents from Ministry of Trade and Industry, seen by this publication, Mr Xie, popularly known as John in Lesotho, is a former Meriti Holdings shareholder whose active shareholding ended on 25 July 2015. Another Chinese national, Yao Shen, ceased to be a shareholder in Meriti Holdings on 18 December 2018, leaving Mr Mothebesoane as the sole shareholder in the business.
Mr Yao is Mr Xie’s brother-in-law. Mr Xie’s wife, Xiaoyi Yao, was once a shareholder in Teboho Construction and only ceased her shareholding on 10 December 2015.
And according to sources close to the developments, some government officials are also involved in the alleged movement of the M7 million and stand to benefit from the alleged fraud.
It is against this background, that according to the sources, the unnamed government officials pushed for the non-renewal of Adv Matsoso’s contract and for him to be sent on premature leave to derail the investigation that he had ordered into the alleged fraud.
Last month, Adv Matsoso told this publication that he was not aware of any fallout between him and the Thabane administration which could have precipitated the decision to get rid of him especially as the leave days he had accrued were far less than the four months that the government gave him ahead of the expiry of his contract.
He said that his working relationship with the government had been “excellent despite the fact that the DCEO’s investigative work made its members an endangered species”.
And this week, Adv Matsoso told the Lesotho Times that the DCEO was investigating the alleged M7 million fraud but added that he was not aware that that his contract was not being renewed due to the involvement of senior government officials in the case.
“It is true that the DCEO was investigating the M7 million during my tenure in office. It was one of the cases that we investigated but I cannot say for sure that it contributed to my early exit. On that one I don’t know,” Adv Matsoso told this publication.
But the sources said that despite his public denials, Adv Matsoso “knows very well that ordering the investigations into the alleged M7 million fraud cost him his job”.
“Under his instructions, the DCEO was investigating the M7 million fraud at the Post Bank and that did not sit well with some senior government officials. They were uneasy that the DCEO would uncover the real people behind this fraud and they lobbied for Matsoso to be pushed out of office prematurely,” one source said.
But in a recent interview with this publication, the Press Attaché in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Thakalekoala, said the allegations that Adv Matsoso was sent packing because the M7 million fraud investigation were baseless.
“What happened is that Ntate Matsoso wrote to the Prime Minister informing him that his contract would soon expire and that was the right thing to do. The Prime Minister slept on the issue and after some time he wrote back to Ntate Matsoso through the Government Secretary, informing him that the government would not be renewing his contract and that he should immediately go on leave because his contract was going to end soon.
“The letter was short and the Prime Minister did not make this decision because of the M7 million issue that allegedly involves senior people in government. It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to either renew or not renew the contract. Honestly speaking, the allegations that he (Adv Matsoso) was relieved of his duties because he was investigating the M7 million fraud case that allegedly involves senior government officials is baseless and I condemn it,” Mr Thakalekoala said.