Top cop off the hook

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Assistant Commissioner of Police Matšepo Soko back at work more than a year after being  suspended for alleged corruption.

Assistant Commissioner of Police 'Mats'epo Soko
Assistant Commissioner of Police ‘Mats’epo Soko

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Matšepo Soko returned to work this week 15 months after she was suspended for suspected corruption.

After the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leaba Thetsane withdrew corruption charges she was facing before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court for lack of evidence, ACP Soko reported for duty at Police Headquarters on Monday.

At the time of her suspension on 5 May 2014 for allegedly soliciting a M5000 bribe from a Chinese man, Chen Ming, in return for helping him illegally acquire a firearm certificate, ACP Soko was in charge of the Crime Unit but has now been moved to head Operations.

A savingram written by King’s Counsel (KC) Thetsane dated 28 April 2014 and addressed to the police commissioner, among others, outlined the charges ACP Sooko faced. The communiqué read: “Maseru Central Charge Office R.C.I 96/04/14. Charges: Contravention of Section 68(1) of the Penal Code Act, No.6 (of) 2010 and Section 13(3) of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act (of) 1999, (As Amended) Rex v ’Matšepo Soko (ACP) duly brought to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for directives as the suspect herein is a serving member of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) in the capacity of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP – Crime).

“I refer to the above-cited matter. Having meticulously read statements contained in the docket under reference, I am of the considered view that there is a prima-facie case against the suspect. The fact that at no stage during the period under reference did the Board formally sit to consider applications for the acquisition of firearm certificates is sufficient to conclude that the purported granting or approval of applicant’s application by ACP Soko constituted a criminal offence in the nature of fraud. The representation communicated by her to the body charged with the final issuance of certificates was clearly in contravention of Sec. 68 (1) of the Penal Code.”

In addition, Advocate Thetsane (KC) indicated ACP Soko also appeared to have contravened provisions of Section 13 (3) of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act No.5 of 1999 (as amended) “in the performance of her duties as Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP – Crime).”

The DPP further noted an “in-depth perusal of the statements herein reveals that no statement has been obtained from the officer responsible for the final issuance of the firearms certificate to whom a misrepresentation was communicated.

“It is further noted that no statement and or explanation was obtained from the applicant, Mr Chen Ming, who was finally issued the certificate. That being the case, we are as at present, unable to decide whether or not to direct that he be jointly charged or used as an accomplice depending on the content of his explanation should he give one.

“Against the above backdrop, it is directed as follows: That ACP (CIS) Soko be charged and remanded on the offences: Count 1: Contravention of Section 68 (1) of the Penal Code Act of 2010. Count 2: Contravention of Section 21 of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act of 1999 (as amended) by Section 13 (3) of Amendment Act No. 3 of 2006, before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.”

Advocate Thetsane added: “For the sake of completeness, I direct that a statement and or explanation be obtained from Mr Ming following which it may be decided whether or not to join him as accused depending on the nature of his explanation should he proffer one. As alluded to hereinabove, it is imperative to obtain a report from the officer responsible for issuing firearm certificates to whom a misrepresentation was communicated.”

However, in a new twist to the saga, Advocate Thetsane issued another savingram dated 3 July 2015 and addressed to Maseru Prosecution Office’s Crown Counsel Advocate L Phooko and Advocate Mohale, which set ACP Soko free.

The DPP noted: “Your savingram dated 24 March 2015 (which the Lesotho Times could not secure a copy) on the above-cited matter (Rex v ’Matšepo Soko) refers. Contents thereof are noted. After extensive consultations appertaining to the views expressed in the savingram under reference, I respond thereto hereunder as follows:

“That indeed a closer look at the docket leaves one with apprehension (as alluded in your savingram) that the prosecution’s case may be shaky to the extent that proceeding therewith might create an impression that the ‘accused’ is being persecuted.

“That the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions should, at all times, be seen to be acting in the most objective manner ever in the best interests of justice. Most significantly, sight should not be lost of the fact that the now accused is a fairly senior officer; and that pressing for prosecution in the phase of facts so strongly mitigating against the Crown might be seen as pursuing some individuals’ hidden agendas. Perhaps it is too late to observe as one does, as the adage goes it is better late than never.

“Having so observed, I direct that the present savingram supersedes one earlier issued dated 28 April 2014. Differently put, the April 28 savingram stands withdrawn. In the premises therefore and acting in accordance with provisions of Section 278 (3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act No. 7 of 1981, I direct that charges against the accused herein be withdrawn.

“The net-effect of the decision (withdrawal) should clearly be understood to mean that ACP Sooko will be a free citizen soon after the withdrawal of charges before the court on 14 July 2015. The docket is herewith returned to enable you to comply with the directives as issued.”

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times is in possession of a copy of Mr Ming’s statement obtained by one Detective Sergeant Tšotetsi on 23 May 2014. Mr Cheng Ming (32) of Fujing in China was working in Mafeteng at Wei Qi Enterprise at the time.

Mr Ming was quoted in the statement: “I arrived in Lesotho around 2002 and worked at Wei Qi Enterprise as a general manager.

“On the 21 August 2013, I took fingerprints and applied for a firearm. On 25 December 2013, I got a call from PHQ and somebody asked if I was Chen Ming and had applied for a firearm license. I said yes. He again said I had a criminal record and had to do something for his boss so that my problem of the criminal record would be solved. He demanded that I must bring M5 000 (five thousand maloti) for his boss.

“I came to PHQ early that morning after that conversation and told him the number plates of my vehicle. I told him I would park outside near the fence at PHQ. Around 11:30hours, after I parked my car outside PHQ, a man came to me and identified himself as a police officer who had called and I gave him that amount of five thousand and he said he would call me at lunchtime.

“Around lunchtime, he called me and said my licence had been approved and asked where we could meet. I said at the same spot, and I rushed to PHQ as I was still around here in Maseru. He gave me the approval form and I went back to Mafeteng. On 26/11/2013, I went to AK Arms and Ammo and purchased a pump-action and 7.65mm and thereafter I went to Maseru Central Charge Office with the serial number of those guns so that I could have a firearm certificate for those guns.”

Asked if she had anything to say regarding her suspension and return to work, ACP Soko referred the Lesotho Times to LMPS spokesperson Clifford Molefe.

On his part, Senior Inspector Molefe yesterday confirmed ACP Sooko’s return, telling the Lesotho Times: “She resumed her duties on 3 August 2015 (Monday). She is now in charge of police operations. This comes after the charges against her were dropped. ACP Sooko was charged on suspicion that she was involved in illegally issuing a firearm certificate and there was nothing wrong with that. The police were doing their job. This can be done to anyone suspected of wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, efforts to get a comment from the DPP were unsuccessful.

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