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The return of Sole

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — There was a time when Masupha Sole was a star.

He had entered the civil service in 1972 as a little known engineer. Those that worked with him say he was a hard worker who would not rest until he had met his targets.

Soon, Sole was promoted to become a senior  engineer in the water affairs department.

Big things were about to come his way.

And in November 1986 he became chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).

It was that job that completed his rise.

Yet it is the same job that led to his ultimate demise and disgrace.

As prosecutors would reveal in court, Sole started getting bribes from international consultant firms just two years after his appointment.

It was however not until the mid-1990s when the skeletons in his closet started tumbling out.

In October 1994 he was suspended for corruption and 14 months later he received his marching orders from the LHDA.

What followed was a bruising court battle that left Sole with nothing. The LHDA successfully sued him to recover the monies it said it had lost through his fraudulent conduct as chief executive.

As a result of the judgment delivered in October 1999 Sole’s three houses were attached and so were his three cars.

His bank accounts were also frozen.

When the battle eventually ended Sole had nothing to his name.

Some however doubt that the LHDA took everything.

His appeal was rejected in April 2001.

Yet even in the face of these serious allegations against him Sole had remained defiant.

He vehemently protested his innocence.

He said most of the allegations against him were false, portrayed himself as a victim and at one time told a government minister that he did not feel that the amount of work he had done for this country wasbeing appreciated.

Someone must have warned him that things were about to get worse.

And sure enough they did.

On June 1, 2001 Sole’s real troubles started.

He appeared in the High Court to face 18 charges, 16 of bribery and two of fraud.

He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

But as the prosecution started laying out its case against him it became clear that Sole lived large on bribes he got from consultant firms that wanted to benefit from the lucrative tenders that came with the water project.

Sole had several offshore accounts.

He has one with Union Bank of Switzerland which consisted of two US Dollar and British Sterling Pound subaccounts.

This one was opened in 1988.

In October 1989 Sole had opened an account with Banque Multi Commercial in Geneva.

He also had an account with Bancaire Privee in Geneva which had  Franc and rand subaccounts.

He also had several accounts in Lesotho and South Africa.

The crown said from 1988 to 1998 money flowed from consultant firms through intermediaries into his offshore accounts.

From there the money would be transferred into his accounts in South Africa.

Sole only had to cross the border to pick it up.

The judge found that all in all Sole had received about M5 million in bribes.

He was sentenced to nine years for receiving US$375 000 from the Highlands Water Venture (HWV) a the consortium that won the tender to construct Katse dam.

On the charge that he received GBP20 986 from Sogreah, Cegelec and Coyne the court found Sole guilty and sentenced him to three years. For receiving US$5 617 and GBP 3 020 from a company called Spie Batignolles Sole got one year.

He got four years for receiving FFR 58 654, GBP 15 200 and US$ 17 180 from a company called Lesotho Highland Tunnel Partnership (LHTP).

He got five years for receiving US$ 91 609 from a company the crown said it had failed to identify.

When the judge finally finished reading his judgment he had found Sole guilty on 13 of the 16 charges he was facing.

In total, Sole had been sentenced to 57 years in jail, a record sentence for anyone who had been convicted of corruption in this country.

Because the sentences were going to run concurrently the judge said Sole was going to spend 18 years behind bars.

On appeal the sentence was reduced to 15 years.

Sole walked to out of prison after serving only eight years and 11 months on May 5.

He slithered out of Maseru and went to his rural home in Qacha’s Nek. He had paid his dues and he did not need to remain in the “wilderness” for long because someone was planning good things for him.

At the end of this month Sole will earn his first pay cheque after spending nine years doing manual work as part of his sentence in prison.

He has been appointed chief technical advisor to the Lesotho Highland Water Commission, which runs the same projects that he used to solicit bribes from contractors.

Good times are rolling again for Sole. His star is shining again.

Only time will tell.

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