Top businessman faces jail for ignoring order

MASERU — A prominent businessman Tumo Tlelai could be sent to prison for contempt of court after the High Court last month found him guilty of ignoring an order barring him from quarrying on Mokunutlung plateau.

Tlelai was found guilty of “flagrant contempt of court” when he appeared before High Court Judge ‘Masefero Mahase on May 19.

The convicted businessman could be jailed when he appears before Justice Mahase for sentencing on a date still to be set.

A conviction for contempt of court attracts a prison sentence although there is an option of a fine.

Tlelai also allegedly threatened to kill a villager, Jobo Mofoka, for trespassing on his mine in defiance of a court order that allowed villagers access to the plateau, according to court papers.

The court also heard that Tlelai deployed armed security guards to prevent villagers from accessing the plateau.

Tlelai who owns Lakeside Hotel and several other businesses in Lesotho and South Africa also impounded villagers’ cattle for grazing on the plateau.

Tlelai ignored a High Court’s order that he should stop quarrying on Mokunutlung plateau because he did not have rights to the mine.

The court order, issued on June 17 last year, had also interdicted Tlelai from “doing any works which in any manner disturb the natural surface of the land on top of the Mokunutlung plateau”.

The area chief for Ha-Mofoka, Lehlola Mofoka, under whose jurisdiction Mokunutlung village falls, in February filed an application in the High Court for the imprisonment of Tlelai for contempt of court.

In an earlier judgment on the case between the villagers and the businessman last year, Justice Mahase ruled that Tlelai had failed to prove that the disputed land had been allocated to him by a lawful authority.

The disputed land — Mokunutlung plateau — is on the boundary between Ha-Mofoka and Qeme areas in Maseru district.

In the case Chief Mofoka and Mokunutlung village chief Ramatsoso Mofoka were the applicants while Tlelai, the ward chief of Qeme, Thaabe Letsie and village chief ’Maletsie Letsie were the respondents.

The Mofoka chiefs, on behalf of the Mokunutlung community, had filed an application in court seeking an interdict against Tlelai who at the time was unlawfully quarrying on the plateau.

In his defence Tlelai had argued that he had been allocated the land by Qeme authorities.

The businessman had also argued that the plateau did not fall under Ha-Mofoka but Qeme area.

However, the court had established that the Mokunutlong plateau was on the boundary of the two areas – Ha-Mofoka and Qeme.

The court had also ruled that Tlelai should cease operations at the plateau because had failed to produce documentary proof that the land had been allocated to him by a lawful authority.

Under the law, land is allocated by the local community council.

Having won the case against Tlelai, the villagers through the Mohlakeng community council, gave quarrying rights to the Lesotho Consumers Consultants Company (LESCCO) on July 13 last year.

The council’s secretary, Celina Jane, signed a quarrying contract for LESCCO on behalf of the council.

However, a month later Jane signed another letter confirming that the same quarrying site had been allocated to Tlelai.

Armed with the council letter, Tlelai approached the High Court seeking an order to stop LESCCO and other companies that were quarrying at Mokunutlung.

The case is pending in the High Court.

Meanwhile the villagers, led by one Jobo Mofoka, have now filed a perjury charge against Jane.

Jane is accused of lying under oath after she told the High Court in her affidavit that LESCCO did not have a quarrying contract with the council when she had in fact signed a contract with the company.

Two other companies that have been cited in the court papers are Mops Civil Construction and Fema Holding.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha confirmed that Mofoka filed a perjury charge on behalf of the Mokunutlung villagers this week.

“I told him that since the alleged crime happened in court it is up to the courts to see means of dealing with it, but I also sent him to our legal department for further advice,” Masupha said.

According to Jane’s affidavit, the council signed a quarrying contract with Tlelai only.

Jane declined to comment, saying she would wait for the law to take its course.

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