State says bandits shot and killed their colleagues
MASERU – Suspects in the April 22 attack on the State House and an attempt on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s life , have been slapped with murder charges in a surprise twist to the case.
The charges against the suspects have also ballooned to 31 up from the initial nine.
The four murder and 17 attempted murder charges appear to have been a recent addition to the case because they did not appear on the initial charge sheet.
When Chauke Mabasa a South African and Antonio Jose Lopez, a Mozambican who are suspected to have been part of the hired mercenaries appeared in court soon after their arrest, the state laid nine charges against them.
There were seven charges of abduction and two of armed robbery.
These were the same charges laid against Makotoko “Mashai” Lerotholi in absentia.
But the new charge sheet in the court papers tells a totally different story now.
It carries totally new charges of murder and attempted murder.
To begin with, there is a new face amongst the suspects, Jessie Ramakatane, a Mosotho man who fled the country into South Africa after being linked with the June 2007 attacks on ministers’ homes.
But there is even more.
Mashai and company are now being charged with the murder of their accomplices who all along had been reported to have been gunned down by Lesotho’s joint forces in the fierce exchange of fire that ensued following the attack on the State House.
That means, according Mashai’s lawyer Haae Phoofolo, the state is alleging that those four mercenaries who died in the gun battle were actually murdered by their fellow accomplices.
In other words, the state is saying Mashai and other suspects turned their guns on their accomplices.
Phoofolo said he was shocked by the murder charges because all along he had thought it was “common knowledge” that the four mercenaries had been killed in a gun battle with Lesotho’s defence forces.
He described the additional charges as “surprising” and “weird”.
“I was so surprised when I saw those charges. I could not believe my eyes. In fact I laughed from the moment I set foot in the courts and reached my office,” Phoofolo
“The government’s spokesperson said those guys had been killed by the local security forces. We saw reports to that effect but I am now surprised by the new allegations by the state that the suspects actually killed their alleged accomplices.”
Phoofolo said he was anxious to see what evidence the state will bring to court to support the murder charges they are laying against Mashai and others.
“I didn’t know about the murder charges. We want to see what evidence they (state) have to support those charges,” Phoofolo said.
It is not clear at what point the state decided to add the murder charges but it is a new twist that is likely to change the direction of the whole case.
Murder conviction carries a death penalty.
Sounds of gunshots engulfed Maseru West in the early hours of April 22 as the criminals and the PM’s security details exchanged fire.
About 20 assailants wearing military fatigues attacked State House in Maseru West in the early hours of April 22 and opened fire on the PM’s official residence.
Alert soldiers on guard immediately shot back.
The bandits had earlier stolen two army vehicles from Makoanyane Barracks near Ha-Leqele in the south-eastern part of Maseru which they used to launch the attack on the PM.
The men had sneaked into Makoanyane Barracks seized six officers in the transport department before stealing a Land Rover Defender and an armoured vehicle.
They then took guns from the soldiers, kidnapped six of them and forced one to drive them to State House in the armoured car.
Then a serious exchange of gun fire ensued between them and the soldiers guarding the State House.
Mosisili was in State House at the time of the attack.
Beaten off from the state house the men fled towards Khubetsoana where four of them were shot dead in the gun battle with Lesotho’s joint forces. Two were arrested.
The rest fled to South Africa where eight were later apprehended. Mashai was arrested on May 8 in Pretoria.
Ramakatane is still at large.