‘Police tried to conceal evidence in Nteso murder’
A KEY witness in the murder case of slain Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) internal auditor, Thibello Nteso, this week accused four police officers of attempting to destroy the evidence when they allegedly moved the deceased’s car from the crime scene before the ballistics team’s arrival.
Mokete Sello, a civil servant stationed at the Communications Ministry made the accusations on Monday during the trial of the four police officers who are charged with 6 February 2017 murder of Mr Nteso.
The four officers are Police Constable (PC) Moeketsi Dlamini (38), PC Monaheng ‘Musi (30), Superintendent Tlali Phatela (52) and Senior Inspector Thaele Ramajoe (45).
The four officers first appeared in court on 12 January 2018 to face charges of murdering Mr Nteso near the residence of former police commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa, on 6 February 2017.
They also face an additional charge of malicious damage to property for allegedly damaging the deceased’s vehicle.
It is the state case that Dlamini and ’Musi were on guard duty at the home of the then Police Commissioner, Letsoepa, in Maseru West on 6 February, 2017 when they allegedly shot and killed Mr Nteso.
He was shot once in the hip area and the same bullet also penetrated the other leg.
The constables claimed they had suspected a plot to attack the former police commissioner after they noticed a firearm-holder in the late Mr Nteso’s car which was parked near Mr Letsoepa’s residence.
They fired shots at Mr Nteso’s vehicle at about 9pm that night to stop him as he was driving away from the residence of the LEC corporate secretary who lives near the former police commissioner.
The other two suspects in the murder case, Inspector Ramajoe and Superintendent Phatela, allegedly ordered the cover-up of the murder by tampering with the crime scene.
It is alleged that Mr Nteso was at the corporate secretary’s residence to work on a forensic audit report. A few days after the shooting, the deceased’s younger brother, Tankiso Nteso, told the Lesotho Times that his brother had confided in him that he had been handling a big case of embezzlement of funds from LEC coffers involving more than M170 million.
The five-day trial, before High Court judge Moroke Mokhesi, began on Monday and ends tomorrow. The deceased’s family and former colleagues at the LEC attended the Monday court session.
On Monday, Mr Sello told the packed courtroom that he was visiting his brother Ntelane Sello in Maseru West when he heard gunshots.
Mr Sello’s brother lives at the LEC flats, very close to the crime scene in Maseru West.
Mr Sello said after hearing gunshots he immediately looked through the window and saw one of the Special Operations Unit (SOU) officers driving the late Mr Nteso’s car from the crime scene towards the LEC flats.
“While we were having dinner at my brother’s place with our cousin, Nthejane (Sello), we were forced to lie flat on the ground after hearing gunshots which were so loud, as if they were at our doorstep,” Mr Sello stated.
“Once the shooting died down, I ran upstairs as it was a double storey building and I had a clear view through a window of the tarred road where the incident seemed to have taken place. I saw a car being driven from near Mr Letsoepa’s place where it had been parked earlier. The car was then parked near the gate of LEC flats where we were. A police officer wearing SOU uniform alighted from the car, leaving it idling, with lights and wipers on (as it was raining that day) as well as the driver’s door wide open.
“I could see residue stains at the back of his trousers as he moved back towards the crime area where he joined other SOU officers near Mr Letsoepa’s place where the body was lying. Shortly afterwards, a white 4×4 vehicle without number plates arrived and they loaded the body onto it and drove away with the corpse.
“A police water cannon vehicle arrived at the scene and I could hear voices outside. We decided to go out and have a closer look. When we got to the gate, I was able to identify the red Mercedes Benz which belonged to my neighbour from Ha Matala, Mr Nteso. It had a lot of blood on the driver’s seat, a gun holster inside and there were many bullet holes on it. The water cannon turned its bright lights on to obscure our view but I could see them picking something from the ground. I believe that is when they cleaned blood from where the body was lying.”
The trial continued on Tuesday with Mr Phatela’s lawyer, Advocate Khotso Nthontho, seeking to discredit Mr Sello’s testimony during the cross examination.
Adv Nthontho accused Mr Sello of fabricating evidence, adding that speculations were not admissible before the court.
“You did not actually see the police officers cleaning blood therefore what you are saying is just speculation which cannot be admissible before the court.
“I also put it to you that in your statement you made at the police station, you deliberately omitted the part where you talk about the police officers picking up things from the ground. If it was true you would have remembered therefore you are lying to the court,” Adv Nthontho said.
However, Mr Sello struck to his guns and said he might have omitted some things while giving his statement to the police because he only made the statement long after the incident.
A colleague of Mr Nteso, Nikiwe Phinda Setšabi, told the court that the former was shot a few minutes after their meeting – held at her residence at the LEC flats.
“We were working on a report which we had to present before the LEC board the following week, so we agreed that we would finish it at my place after work. I got home at around 4pm while Mr Nteso arrived about 30 minutes later. We worked till after 9.30pm when he decided to leave. A few minutes after he left I heard gunshots which sounded very close and I immediately went down on all fours.
“When the sound died down I peeped through the window but could not see anything. I then went outside and when I looked through the gate I saw Mr Nteso’s car outside. I rushed towards it but I did not find him inside but only a lot of blood on the driver’s seat. I then saw two police officers and asked them where he was and they told me that the car had been ‘wanted’ and they had found it there with a driver heavily armed with a 9mm firearm. I told them that Mr Nteso’s firearm was legal and that they should have demanded its licence.
“It was during our conversation that I saw a body lying ahead as another car arrived with lights on. As I approached the body, I asked them why they had shot such a humble person and instead of responding they only told me to go back to my house. Before I could leave I met two United States (of America) security officers who offered to help me with anything I needed. That is when I got back inside and started calling other colleagues as well as my husband who shortly arrived at the scene. At the time the police officers had already whisked the body and the car away.”
The two Security Unlimited officers, Habofanoe Tlebere and Thabo Ratalane, who were patrolling at the US ambassador’s residence in the street near the scene of the crime told the court on separate occasions that they quickly rushed to the scene when they heard gunshots.
“We quickly rushed to the next street where we had heard gunshots coming from and upon our arrival, we met two soldiers standing by the gate where we believed they were posted that night. I stepped out of the car to inquire about the shooting but they told me it came from the police officers ahead of them and I walked towards the police while Mr Ratalane drove in the car.
“We got near the red Mercedes Benz which had its lights on, driver’s door wide open and idling with the wipers on. Inside it I saw a lot of blood on the driver’s seat. Near it were two police officers in SOU uniform and a woman who was crying bitterly. The woman was asking the officers why they had killed such a humble person.
“Mr Ratalane then put the bright lights on so we could see what seemed like a body which lay a few metres ahead but the police officers nearly bit his head off demanding that he turn off the bright lights and quickly leave the scene. We complied. I was already close to the body which lay on the ground and there was another officer who was shaking the body’s head asking the deceased to wake up but the way the head easily moved I concluded that he was already dead. The body was lying in a pool of blood,” Mr Tlebere said.
Mr Ratalane gave a similar version of the incident which he said he observed from inside the car which he was driving.
The legal representative of PCs Dlamini and ‘Musi, Advocate Lebohang Ramakhula, asked the four witnesses if they had seen who fired first or what caused the shootout. All denied having seen the shootout after which Adv Ramakhula he put it to them that his clients acted in self-defence.
“When an armed person attacks you and you have a gun, it is only fair or practical that you also use a gun to defend yourself.
“You will agree with me that the shooting area was a residential area of very important people which included the US ambassador as well as former commissioner of police. So, if a vehicle is left unattended for over five hours near the commissioner’s place, it is only fair that it raised the suspicion of my clients who were on duty to guard Mr Letsoepa.
“Accused number one and two (Dlamini and ‘Musi) shot in self-defence as the deceased shot first,” Adv Ramakhula said.
Senior Inspector Ramajoe’s lawyer, Adv Napo Mafaesa, said his client was not there during the shooting and did not conspire with anyone to kill Mr Nteso.
“My client tells me to tell you that he (Ramajoe) was at his home when the incident occurred and that he never acted in complicit with anyone to shoot or kill the deceased,” said Adv Mafaesa. Adv Nthontho said the same thing about his client, Supt Phatela.