MASERU — Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane is scheduled to appear in the Maseru Magistrate Court today on charges of corruption instituted by the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the Lesotho Times has learnt.
This paper understands that the charges pertain to the block farming scheme launched in the 2006 and made provision for farmers to get government guaranteed loans from Standard Lesotho Bank.
Thahane was one of the MPs and ministers who were appointed as mentors for the farmers that got the loans.
In May the DCEO interrogated Thahane, who was former finance minister under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s administration, and informed him that he would be charged for fraud, conflict of interest and abuse of office in relation to the block farming scandal.
This paper understands that at the time, DCEO officers accused Thahane of having illegally benefited from the M74 million loan scheme that was supposed to help poor households boost food security.
However, at the last minute the anti-corruption body somersaulted, telling Thahane that it was suspending the charges it intended to bring against him “until further notice”.
Meanwhile, this paper was also reliably informed last night that the DCEO’s attempt to arrest Thahane ahead of his appearance in the magistrate court was foiled after the energy minister allegedly sought asylum at the Royal Palace.
It was not clear how Thahane got wind of the arrest planned by the DCEO.
This, according to the sources, prompted Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to convene an emergency cabinet meeting at the State House to discuss the issues pertaining to Thahane’s scheduled court appearance.
The block farming scandal started unravelling in 2010 when former trade minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy stalwart, Mpho Malie, wrote to Standard Lesotho Bank complaining that some of the mentors in the scheme had illegally benefited from the loans meant for farmers.
He said instead of helping farmers the mentors had ended up being the main creditors of the scheme and they had failed to repay their loans.
Malie, who is now political adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, also alleged that the mentors could have laundered some of the money.
Sekara Mafisa, the then ombudsman, investigated Malie’s claims.
His report puts Thahane’s alleged liability at M17 531 851 before interest, meaning that for the 2006/2007 farming season Thahane borrowed a large portion of the entire annual block farming national budget.