MASERU — A prominent Maseru businessman, Tumo Tlelai, was yesterday sentenced to 30 days in prison for contempt of court.
Tlelai, who owns Victoria Hotel, Lakeside Hotel as well as other businesses in Lesotho and South Africa, was found guilty of disregarding a court order interdicting him from continuing to operate a quarry mine on Mokunutlung plateau in Korokoro village about 20km south-east of Maseru.
The order was issued in June 2009 but Tlelai continued mining until he was brought before the High Court on May 19 for contempt of court.
Mokunutlung plateau is between the villages of Mokunutlung and Hata-Butle.
The case against him was brought by Lehlola Mofoka, the chief of Mokunutlung, who told the court that Tlelai had continued operations at the plateau despite the interdict.
Mofoka has been in a fight with Hata-Butle chief Thaabe Letsie over the ownership of the Mokunutlung plateau on which Tlelai is operating a quarry mine.
The interdict ordered Tlelai to stop operations until the dispute between the two chiefs had been resolved.
Tlelai was convicted of contempt of court by Justice Maseforo Mahase on May 19 this year and has been waiting for sentencing.
She said Tlelai was “in flagrant contempt” of the court.
Yesterday Justice Mahase sentenced him to a month in prison.
“He is accordingly committed to prison for 30 days from today,” Justice Mahase said.
Tlelai, who was in the company of his wife, looked stunned after Justice Mahase delivered her handwritten judgment.
She said he would be in prison until he had proven that he has “satisfactorily” complied with the June 2009 order.
Tlelai sat silently in the public gallery of Court 9 waiting for the warrant of committal before he could be taken to Maseru Central Prison to start serving his time.
Later he turned to his wife and told her that if she wanted to tell him anything she must do so immediately because he was about to be taken in.
And when he left the court room for the loo Tlelai told his wife that she had to remain in the court because the police might suspect that he had run away.
As he emerged from the court a senior police officer trailed him to the loo.
In a desperate bid to save his client, lawyer Ts’abo Matooane tried to approach Justice Mahase in her chambers for a private discussion but the judge was in no mood for negotiations.
She refused to meet Matooane saying such a meeting would not be proper. About an hour later Tlelai was being checked in at the Maseru Central Prison.
The Lesotho Times understands that by last night Matooane was making frantic efforts to launch an appeal against the ruling.
He can either seek a review of the sentence or appeal to the Court of Appeal.