Thabane, ‘Maesaiah trial for murder beckons

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Mohalenyane Phakela

FORMER Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, are expected to reappear in the High Court today to stand trial for the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife wife, Lipolelo Thabane.

The Thabanes are accused alongside the now deceased Famo artiste and gang leader, Rethabile ‘Mosotho Chakela’ Mokete, Molefi Matima (also deceased), Seabata Lieta and Macheli Koeshe. Lieta and Koeshe are at large, meaning that only Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah will appear before Judge Molefi Makara.

‘Maesaiah is out on bail while Mr Thabane has never been arrested. Nor has he been formally charged.  He appeared at the High Court for a pre-trial interview on 30 November 2021 where he was told that he would be joined to the case and asked to plead when the murder trial began on 8 March 2022. But the trial did not take off as expected on that date because the defence had not been furnished with witness statements.

Justice Makara then postponed the trial to 28 April 2022 to allow the Crown to furnish the defence with the witness statements.

‘Maesaiah is represented by Advocate Salemane Phafane KC while Mr Thabane is represented by Attorney Qhalehang Letsika.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Adv Motene Rafoneke.

The Thabanes are accused of masterminding Lipolelo’s murder, allegedly by the late Chakela and his fellow Famo gangsters.

The police accuse Mr Thabane and his wife of murdering Lipolelo to facilitate ‘Maesaiah’s ascension to the post of First Lady in 2017. Lipolelo had been estranged from Mr Thabane. But she had won the right to be recognised as the real First Lady and enjoy the benefits of that office because her long running divorce case with Mr Thabane had not been finalised when Mr Thabane returned for his second stint as premier in June 2017.

Lipolelo was murdered two days before Mr Thabane’s inauguration. The police insist the only motive for her murder was to pave way for the “impatient” ‘Maesaiah to become First Lady since the courts had found in Lipolelo’s favour.  With divorce cases generally taking a long time to conclude in Lesotho, ‘Maesaiah is accused of having opted for the “quickest” and “easiest” way out in eliminating Lipolelo. She and Mr Thabane married barely two months after Lipolelo’s death.

The Thabane couple threw a lavish wedding ceremony at Setsoto Stadium on 27 August 2017.

According to court papers filed by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paseka Mokete in 2020, Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah allegedly promised to pay Lipolelo’s killers a staggering M3 million to get the job done.

The Thabanes had only paid the Famo gangsters M400 000 when the murder allegations against them blew up earlier in 2020, DCP Mokete alleged.

The Thabanes’ trial is among 35 criminal cases that the High Court had been looking to dispose of by 29 April 2022. Such was the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)’s determination to begin clearing the huge 4000-plus backlog of cases that it even recalled former Judge Semapo Peete out of retirement.

Already, the High Court has disposed of another high-profile case- that of prominent businessman Tšeliso Nthane- who was accused of murdering his truck driver, Kopang Mohapi, on 10 January 2019. The Nthane trial had been on the backburner for the past three years. But it proved to be a damp squib with the businessman being controversially acquitted after just three days.

Acting Judge Palesa Rantara conducted the trial from 6 to 8 April 2022 and acquitted Mr Nthane on the grounds that the state had failed to prove its case.

Even though it had been submitted that there were numerous witnesses at the scene of the alleged crime, the prosecution, led by Advocate Motene Rafoneke, inexplicably choose to call in just two witnesses, Motiki Mokatse and Moeketsi Motsamai, who testified on 6 and 7 April 2022 respectively. Neither of the witnesses’ testimony was helpful to the prosecution’s case as they both testified that they did not actually see Mr Nthane pull the trigger and shoot Mr Mohapi dead.

A third witness had been lined up to testify but, in the end, Adv Rafoneke elected not to call him. He told the court that he had decided to drop the third witness after realising that his testimony would be “of no use to the case”.

Mr Nthane’s defence, spearheaded by Adv Motiea Teele, took full advantage of the weak state case to successfully apply for the business mogul’s discharge.

It is hoped that the state will put up a solid case in the Thabanes’ matter to ensure that it does not become a sham trial thus bringing the judiciary into disrepute.

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