Tempers flare in court

…as suspended finance PS fights for bail

 

By Tefo Tefo

MASERU — Suspended finance principal secretary Mosito Khethisa on Tuesday appeared before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court charged with defrauding the government of over M6 million.
Khethisa’s charges revolve around a contract he allegedly awarded to Civa Innovations in 2010 for the establishment of a wool and mohair project in Maseru in violation of the country’s procurement regulations.
Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya told the court that Khethisa, who was suspended on Tuesday last week while on a business trip to the United States, was being charged for allegedly contravening Section 68 (1) of the Penal Code No. 6 of 2010.

Reads the charge-sheet: “On or about March 17 2014 and at or near the Ministry of Finance in the district of Maseru, the said accused, acting in consent with Civa Innovations Management (Pty) Limited, unlawfully, deliberately and with intent to defraud the government of Lesotho or the Ministry of Finance that the agreement entered into between the Ministry and Civa Innovations Management (Pty) Limited on April 29th 2010 in respect of a Wool and Mohair Development Project complied with procurement regulations of 2007.

This was done with the intention that the Ministry should act upon the said misrepresentation to the prejudice of the government to act thereon; more specifically by paying Civa Innovations Management (Pty) Limited M6, 452 000.”

Khethisa, who was arrested on Sunday and had been in police custody until his court appearance on Tuesday morning, was set free after paying M10 000 bail.
His release, however, followed a heated argument between the prosecution and defence lawyers, with Senior Crown Counsel Lesaoana Mohale urging the magistrate to impose stringent bail conditions on the embattled PS.

“The Crown has no objection to bail. However, we have some conditions that we ask the court to consider.
“The Crown insists that the accused be ordered to pay a bail deposit of M50 000 and surety to the amount of M250 000.
“My learned friend (Khethisa’s lawyer) has said the accused has a case whose facts resulted in this charge. I submit this is an independent charge altogether.
“If he says it emanates from the previous one, he knows that the Crown has a duty to amend the charge-sheet to include the one he faces today. But because it is a new charge, we have decided to ask for these conditions.
“If the accused cannot pay now but can only pay on Thursday as my learned friend has suggested, he should go to jail where he can only be released after he has met all the bail conditions,” Mohale said.

But Khethisa’s lawyer, Advocate Philip Loubser, pleaded with the court to realise that the intention of the police and the Crown was to keep Khethisa behind bars for a longer period.
In support of his case, Loubser narrated how Khethisa was kept in police cells for two days.
“He went overseas and came back last Friday, knowing fully well that last year’s case was still hanging over his head. He could have absconded if he had that intention in his mind.
“He attended a meeting with high government officials on Sunday and, thereafter, was unexpectedly arrested. He was brought to court this morning (Tuesday morning) and an application was brought for his further detention.
“We vehemently opposed it and it was accordingly dismissed.
“Yesterday (Monday) his attorney (Neil Fraser) inquired from the Commissioner of Police as to when he would be released and the reply from the police legal division was that they wanted to detain him until investigations are complete.
“Now, suddenly after their application for further detention was dismissed this morning, he was charged, meaning there were no continuing investigations.
“We submit, with respect, that if he is admitted on bail, the bail deposit should not exceed M10 000. Should he be ordered to pay over M10 000, he won’t be able to raise that amount of money now considering it is already after working hours,” Loubser told the court.
At the time Loubser was addressing the court, it was around 5pm.

Loubser continued: “My learned friend concedes that the accused will not abscond, so why insist on such bail conditions? Where on earth can someone get that amount of money at this time?
“It’s now five o’clock and the banks are closed. This would only mean the denial to bail.
“After their application was dismissed in the morning, they said they would remand him after lunch.
“I was here personally at two o’clock this afternoon. The accused was here at two o’clock. We were all waiting for the police.
“They just arrived and now that the banks are closed, they want the court to impose stringent conditions. In fact, they simply want him to go to jail.”
Releasing the PS on bail, Magistrate Nthunya explained at length what bail is, adding she wanted to give a lesson on why surety is being imposed as one of the bail conditions.
“Bail is a constitutional right to everybody; it derives from the presumption of innocence until one has been proven guilty. It is a right.
“If a person is brought to court and a person who brings him to court is unable to proceed with the case there and then, the accused person has the right to apply for bail.
“This issue of surety has now gone out of hand and let me give lessons now. Initially, the courts used to release people on bail without any condition of surety. When a person could not come to court, we used to issue warrants of arrest against such particular accused persons.
“But the police were not serving such warrants and the cases could not proceed. We started imposing surety as one of the bail conditions that individuals, who stand in as surety for the accused persons, can take responsibility to ensure that the accused persons, who were released on bail, stand trial to finality.
“But now this issue of surety has gone out of hand and the accused (Khethisa) will not pay any surety so that the police can now do their job properly.
“The accused is released on condition that he pays M10 000 as bail deposit. He should also report to the police every last Friday of the month.
“The accused is also ordered to appear before this court against on the April 29 2014,” Magistrate Nthunya said.
Meanwhile, Khethisa, former finance minister Timothy Thahane and Civa Innovations Management (Proprietary) Limited Director Mokhethi Moshoeshoe have already been jointly charged of defrauding government of over M19 million regarding the same wool and mohair project.
The three made their first appearance before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on October 2013 24.

Both Khethisa and Moshoeshoe have since paid the M10 000 bail imposed by the court, while also securing the accompanying M100 000 surety, thereby gaining their freedom.
Thahane has since been fired as a cabinet minister due to the charges.

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