We have to work hard to restore public confidence in the police: Mokete 

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DEPUTY Commissioner of Police (DCP), Paseka Mokete, will today be reassigned to his previous post as DCP in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He has been DCP in charge of finance and administration. He will swap with DCP Beleme Lebajoa, the man who took over the powerful post from him in July 2021.

This week, Lesotho Times (LT) Editor, Herbert Moyo, sat down with Mokete to find out the rationale behind his re-deployment to the post he left almost a year ago. In the wide-ranging interview below, Mokete also shared his thoughts on his recent acquittal on allegations of sexually assaulting a female subordinate.

Mokete also expressed his views on the widespread criticism directed at the police and in particular, the CID, over its failure to thoroughly investigate cases especially those involving high-profile suspects, resulting in their acquittals by the courts of law.   Excerpts:

LT: You are returning to head the CID. What has prompted the decision to reassign you to that department almost a year after you were reshuffled from it to the finance and administration desk?

Mokete: I was informed by the Commissioner of Police (Holomo Molibeli) that he had realised that there were some problems in the CID ever since I left.

There were some issues that people would raise and there were complaints that their cases were not handled properly by the CID. Specifically, the one that actually came to mind was the murder case of the businessman, Mr (Tšeliso) Nthane.

He was found not guilty of murder despite the clear evidence against him and we were all shocked. He (Molibeli) said it looked like there were some problems in the CID. Ever since I left the department, there were no fruitful results that could actually be seen. So he (Molibeli) had decided that I should go back to the CID.

Initially the current incumbent (DCP Beleme Lebajoa) and I were supposed to have completed the handover exercise so that I take over on 26 May 2022. But this has not happened as planned and I am now expected to be in office by 2 June 2022 (today).

So, basically the main reason why I’m being redeployed back to the CID is that police management is concerned that there are CID issues and criminal investigations that are not being properly handled. Perhaps there is a belief that I will do better.

LT: In your view, observing from a distance, have the police been handling investigations very well all this time after you left the CID?

Mokete: I believe there is a misunderstanding of what an investigation entails. It involves the collection of evidence that connects the suspect to the crime. We know there are some procedures that must be undertaken to ensure the admissibility of the evidence collected. I believe that perhaps there has been a lack of guidance and supervision especially when it comes to high profile cases. Where there is lack of supervision and guidance, there will be some of the problems that have been observed when we got to court like, for example, in the case of Mr Nthane.

In my humble view Mr Nthane’s case was a very straight forward case. The now deceased driver was driving Mr Nthane’s truck with very expensive equipment which was supposed to earn him (Nthane) many millions. He (Nthane) went to the scene when he was told that the truck had overturned. There were onlookers when he arrived at the scene and fired the shot. After that shot was fired, the driver died and Mr Nthane surrendered himself to the police.

In my understanding that (surrendering to the police) is basically an admission of guilt that the court should have taken into consideration. Somebody died from a bullet fired from the gun belonging to the suspect, Mr Nthane. Therefore, I don’t understand why the court said there was no evidence.

Apart from that, I heard that the court said that there was no ballistic report concerning the firearm that was used (in the commission of the alleged murder). But from what I have been told, there was a ballistic report. As to why it was not handed over to the court, I don’t understand but I intend to find out when I get back into the CID. I believe that the matter was not properly handled.

This was a very straightforward case because the incidents connected him to the crime from the onset. He fired the shot and the same person who was driving his truck got hit by the bullet and died. After the incident, the suspect surrendered himself to the police. What did he say when he arrived at the police station? What did the police say? According to my legal background, that is an admission and the police ought to have established whether he voluntarily surrendered himself or not. Were there any influences or threats to him to get him to surrender? All these issues ought to have been noted but I was shocked that they were not.

The trust that the public have in the abilities of police officers to effectively investigate cases involving famous people is gradually being eroded if the police cannot handle issues of crime properly.

LT: You investigated former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, and others over the alleged murder of the former premier’s ex-wife, Lipolelo.

What was your experience? Would you say there were any political and other influences to ensure such high profile suspects are let off the hook particularly when there have been lengthy delays in trying them?

Mokete: Well that’s the inference that can be drawn by ordinary citizens.

But then Mr Thabane’s treatment is questionable even to me because he ought to have appeared before the judge or magistrate to be formally charged. But we don’t even know how to describe the current situation. He has gone to the court as what? Is he an accused person?

An accused person is supposed to appear before a court of law and be formally charged. The charges have to be read to him. His rights must also be read to him and he has a right to remain silent. He has a right to a lawyer and a right to apply for bail. But all this was not done in Mr Thabane’s case as it was done with his wife. You can see that they were treated differently. The same applies with Mr Mochoboroane in the treason and murder case. This has set the wrong precedent in our judicial system and I think it has to be addressed.

My experience has not been particularly a pleasant one after investigating the Thabanes.

I was later wrongly implicated in an alleged crime of sexually abusing a subordinate.

The complainant was influenced by the politicians. I’ve got the proof that there were some politicians who were behind the ordeal that I went through. Hence it was all over the media and there were even political youths advocating for my suspension and fortunately the Commissioner (Molibeli) resisted that.

The case against me was very weak and the complainant could not even prove her claims. The court subsequently discharged me without even putting me into the witness box to answer to the allegations because the charges I was facing were false.

LT: Why would anyone go after you over the Thabane case?

Mokete: People did not like the manner in which I handled the Thabane case. That one is an obvious fact and they tried by all the means to get rid of me. They then used that (sexual assault) case and the media to get rid of me. They did not know that by that time (of the redeployment from CID) the (Lipolelo) probe was complete. We had already completed the investigation and the case was not before the police anymore.

“They had thought that by removing me from that (CID) office and putting somebody else, something could be done to manipulate the system to ensure the (Lipolelo) murder investigation would come to naught. I think that was their motive.

LT: Despite being trained by their SADC and FBI counterparts on proper investigative techniques, the police continue bungling investigations. They have also been accused of torturing suspects to obtain confessions. Why is this still happening?

Mokete: You know there is a statement that was made by then Prime Minister Thabane telling police officers that whenever they were out of the public gaze, they should beat up suspects. I think some police officers just took the advantage of that statement, but they did not understand the consequences thereof.

But having said that, we are trained officers and every one of us knows that assaulting anyone is a crime, so I don’t understand why some officers are still doing it.

Another contributing factor is that in the instances where police officers have been charged over acts of brutality, the cases take too long to be finalised by the courts hence there isn’t anything to deter others from committing similar crimes.

But then again, there are instances where the police are falsely accused. Sometimes you find out that the police are blamed when a person has already been assaulted by the public before being handed over to the police and unfortunately dies in police custody. When such unfortunate cases happen, the impression to the public would be that the police have killed the person.

LT: Does the police command ever take any disciplinary measures against the rogue officers accused of brutality against citizens?

Mokete: We often talk to police officers not to engage in acts of brutality. Quite often the politicians will raise the issue of police brutality. Sometimes the international community demands that we provide statistics of police brutality and the actions taken against these. Unfortunately, we don’t do that but we are working to stop brutality without publicizing what we are doing hence why it may appear like we are not doing anything about it.

LT: What have you got to say about allegations that the police are not doing enough to fight gender-based violence and other crimes against women and children?

Mokete: We have a Child and Gender Protection Unit and these are officers who are well-trained. Even my own sexual assault case was referred to this unit and they said from the onset there was no case against me. It was then taken to another police unit before it eventually went to court where I was cleared.

Nonetheless, the police have been trained on gender issues and GBV. We are still getting assistance from donors such as the World Vision and the UNDP who train us on matters of gender issues as well as handling issues pertaining to children.

But we cannot rule out the possibility that sometimes victims can get a raw deal when they get to report a case. However, we are constantly working to address that.

LT: Another burning issue is that of some police officers’ with alleged links to Famo gangsters. How big is this problem and how are you dealing with it?

Mokete: Well it is something that exists, and when there are conflicts among the Famo gangs, some of them will accuse some police officers of siding with a particular faction that they don’t see eye to eye with. That is how we get to learn of our officers’ involvement with the gangs when such reports are made to us.

Sometimes police officers have been linked to certain Famo-related killings and we investigate such cases before taking any action. These are crimes and they are treated like other crimes.

LT: The other issue pertains to guns that are being stolen from police stations and allegedly sold to Famo gangsters. How does it happen that guns can be stolen from police stations that are manned by trained law enforcement agents as was the case in Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek?

Mokete: It is not true that guns were stolen from the Mohale’s Hoek police station. At Mafeteng, guns were stolen but I don’t have any inside information because by the time they were stolen (in November 2021), I had already left the CID.

However, I must say that there are those people who are illegally mining in the abandoned gold mines in South Africa and these people have a lot of money from the gold they get and sell.

So, this money makes them think they should have access to firearms. We are not the only ones faced with this problem of the theft of guns. You will recall that even the army and the correctional services have previously reported the theft of arms.

These are challenges that all security agencies are faced with because people are being attracted by money. An officer can be enticed by an offer of M30 000 to sell a firearm and they don’t look at the bigger picture that this firearm will be used to kill someone. So, some people may not even calculate the risk and the result, and they are tempted to sell the firearms to criminals.

What I can say is that continuous inspections and audits of all firearms are needed to ensure that guns don’t go missing only for this to be discovered long afterwards.

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