‘Whistleblower’ cries foul

MASERU — Topollo Lephatšoe (pictured), a director in the Prime Minister’s office who is facing charges of corruption and fraud, says he is a victim of a “corrupt” and “vindictive” Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Lephatšoe who is the director of the Poverty Reduction Programme (Prep) in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office claims that his troubles started in 2006 after he reported to the DCEO that two senior officials in his office had stolen money meant for a sandstone project.

He claims that he told the DCEO that Pitso Molekane who worked as a procurement officer and Nicholas Lene, a financial controller, pinched funds earmarked for the installation of sandstone cutting machines in Lekokoaneng and Koalabata.

Lephatšoe, 60, says he submitted the evidence to the DCEO.

He alleges that a few months after he blew the whistle on Molekane and Lene the DCEO told him that it had investigated the matter but there was no evidence to prosecute the two.

The DCEO’s senior investigator, Thabiso Thibeli, had been assigned to investigate the matter.

Lephatšoe claims that a few months after he was informed that Molekane and Lene were no longer being investigated Thibeli called him to the DCEO offices.

At that meeting, he alleges, Thibeli announced that he was now being charged with fraud, corruption and theft by false pretence.

“I was shocked because I was the whistleblower in this case but the DCEO was now prosecuting me instead of the people I had reported,” Lephatšoe says, adding that the DCEO’s charges were based on the same case he had reported.

The first case against Lephatšoe is based on a transaction that his department had with Dormvest 5001/CK, a South African company that manufactures sandstone cutting machines, in 2006.

The company is owned by Andre Van Zyl, who has since turned state witness on promises of immunity.

In September 2006 Lephatšoe’s department decided to buy 15 sandstone cutting machines.

Lephatšoe says Lene and Molekane decided to negotiate a discount with Van Zyl.

He admits that he was part of the negotiating team but claims that his role was only to introduce the two officers to Van Zyl.

Van Zyl’s total price for the machines was M2.025 million but after negotiations he agreed to reduce the price to M1.6 million.

But according to Lephatšoe Van Zyl said since Lene and Molekane had already brought a M2.025 million purchase order he was going to give the discount in the form of a donation to the poverty reduction programme.

“He said the M425 000, which was the discount was to be used to instal the machines in Lekokoaneng and Koalabata as well as building a house for orphans in Khubetsoana.”

Lephatšoe alleges that Van Zyl said he was only going to release the money into the bank account of the person hired to instal the machines and the constructor for the orphanage.

Lephatšoe claims that Van Zyl requested him to write a letter to put it on record that his department had asked for a discount.

“I obliged,” Lephatšoe says.

He claims that Lene and Molekane then introduced Van Zyl to Khanyapa Nthako, a Lesotho Defence Force soldier who is a qualified auto-electrician.  Van Zyl, Lephatšoe says, agreed to pay Nthako directly for the contract to instal the machines and to find a contractor to build the orphanage.

Nthako, who is being charged together with Lephatšoe, yesterday confirmed to the Lesotho Times that Van Zyl had deposited M425 000 into his account.

Lephatšoe says Nthako was working well until he suddenly announced that he had run out of funds.

“I confronted Nthako and he told me that he had given some of the money to Lene and Molekane,” Lephatšoe alleges.

He says Lene and Molekane had allegedly told Nthako that they wanted the money to buy materials to complete the project but they never did.

“I was angry and I told Nthako to put those allegations in writing. He did. I also asked him to write a cheque to pay one of the plumbers. He did but the cheque was dishonoured because his account was now empty,” Lephatšoe says.

He claims that when he confronted Lene and Molekane about Nthako’s allegations they told him that the money did not belong to the government and he had nothing to worry about.

Lephatšoe says he then reported the matter to Ramootsi Lehata, the then minister in the prime minister’s office.

“Lehata said he would contact the then DCEO director Borotho Matsoso to investigate the matter but I warned the minister that Lene and Molekane were friends of the DCEO. The minister still went ahead and informed the DCEO.”

Yesterday Lehata, who is now the Minister of Public Services, told the Lesotho Times that he did not recall having such a conversation with Lephatšoe.

“I don’t remember having such a discussion with him,” Lehata said.

“I would remember if I ever had the discussion with him.”

But Lephatšoe says after Lehata’s intervention Thibeli was assigned to investigate the matter.

“Four months later Thibeli told me that he had stopped investigating Lene and Molekane because there was no evidence to connect them to the crime.” “After a few months Thibeli called me again to tell me that after a thorough investigation they had discovered that I was the culprit. He then arrested me together with Nthako.”

They were charged for fraud, corruption and theft by false pretence.

Lene and Molekane became state witnesses against them.

Lephatšoe says he was convinced that the DCEO was after him when Thibeli followed him to South Africa and back to Lesotho a few weeks after he was charged.

“When I got to Maseru I stopped my car and Thibeli stopped his. I went to his car and asked why he was following me. He said if you don’t stop what you are doing we will follow you until we nail you.”

He claims that a few weeks later he went to the DCEO’s offices and asked Thibeli why he was persecuting him.

“Thibeli said I should not blame him but the officials from the Prime Minister’s office who time and again pamper them with information that will lead to my arrest.”

“He (Thibeli) said there will be relief once you are locked up,” Lephatšoe alleges.

Thibeli told the Lesotho Times yesterday that Lephatšoe was not telling the truth.

“I wouldn’t stoop that low,” Thibeli said, adding: “I have ever had any cause to treat Mr Lephatšoe in that way and I never talk like that to a crime suspect.”

Lephatšoe further claims that he was convinced that there was a plan to have him jailed when he had a heated confrontation with the DCEO’s principal investigations officer Tau Phasumane, who was working with Thibeli on his case.

Lephatšoe alleges that after one court session he and Phasumane started arguing outside the court room.

“Phasumane said the DCEO had lined up 10 criminal cases against me which they intended to bring to court one after another until I run out of money to pay my lawyers.

“We were arguing in the foyer of the court and he almost manhandled me when my lawyer intervened and told him that he had no right to talk to me like that.”

Lephatšoe’s lawyer, Makhetha Motšoari, confirmed there was a heated argument between his client and Phasumane.

He however declined to comment further saying the issues were being handled by the courts and it would be improper to discuss them with newspapers.

Efforts to get a comment from Phasumane were not successful.

Lephatšoe says he complained about the incident to the DCEO director-general Matsoso and “Phasumane apologised”.

“But after we left Motsoso’s office Phasumane told me that he does not care about the apology because he was still going to nail me.”

The DCEO spokesperson, Litelu Ramokhoro, confirmed that Lephatšoe approached him complaining about the agency’s investigators saying they were fabricating crimes against him.

Ramokhoro said Lephatšoe complained that the investigators told him directly that they would ensure that he was arrested and jailed.

“I arranged a meeting with the director-general and I do not know how that meeting ended but I believe that the director-general solved the problems,” Ramokhoro said.

“I told him that every citizen is entitled to be protected by law and this office would do all it could to ensure his protection,” he said.

“I am not aware that there are 10 criminal cases lined up by this office against him. However, if there is a valid suspicion that someone is breaking the law this office will investigate that crime not anything more or less.”

Ramokhoro added that Lephatšoe should not conclude that what he reported about Molekane and Lene fell off in favour of investigating and prosecuting him. “Crime investigation paces differ depending on complexities of cases,’ Ramokhoro said. Efforts to get comments from Lene and Molekane were not successful.

Yesterday officials from the Prime Minister’s office gave the Lesotho Times the two gentlemen’s direct office lines but their phones went unanswered.

Lephatšoe and Nthako appeared before Ficksburg magistrate last week where the court was going to hear Van Zyl’s evidence.

This was after Van Zyl refused to come to Lesotho to give evidence and magistrate Tšeliso Bale was forced to hear his testimony in Ficksburg.

During that hearing Van Zyl stunned the prosecution when he said Lephatšoe had nothing to do with the quotations that the state had alleged that he had inflated.

Lephatšoe and Nthako will appear again in court in Maseru on November 10.

Lephatšoe says he was further convinced that the DCEO is determined to nail him when the anticorruption unit brought another case against him.

In this case he is charged together with a training officer in his department, Teboho Tsoako, and Nteboheleng Sekhatile, a director of a local company who was allegedly paid M88 000 from the public purse.

According to the charge sheet in March 2008 Tsoako requisitioned three quotations from Sekhatile’s company, Ntebo Brokers (Pty) Ltd, and two of her fictitious firms Hi-tech Business Supplies and PMP Suppliers.

Ntebo Brokers, which competed with non-existing companies, won the job to supply the Poverty Reduction Programme with the complete steel frame structure and railway structure with wheels.

The goods were allegedly never delivered but the government paid Ntebo Brokers M88 000 after Lephatšoe “signed a fraudulent delivery note knowing well that he had not received them”.

“The second accused (Lephatšoe) unlawfully and intentionally signed a delivery note for goods he knew were not received by him and/or will in any manner be delivered by Ntebo Brokers,” reads the charge sheet.

Lephatšoe alleges that the DCEO refused him a chance to show them the goods that Ntebo Brokers had supplied.

He says just when he thought his troubles were about to end Phasumane brought yet another case against him.

On July 27 this year Phasumane arrested and charged him for failing to keep proper records in the stores.

“I told him that I am not a storekeeper but he said he would arrest me until I am used to it,” Lephatšoe says.

Lephatšoe has not been brought before the courts almost two months later.

“I am waiting for seven more charges to come, until I am finished as Phasumane once told me,” he said.

Lephatšoe becomes the fifth senior employee in Mosisili’s office to be accused of corruption and fraud.

Kubutu Makhakhe, the principal secretary for administration, was in April found guilty of corruption-related charges by a disciplinary panel after he allegedly approved payments for companies linked to his wife.

The panel recommended that instead of being fired Makhakhe should be redeployed to another government job not related to procurement.

He has since been informed that his contract will not be renewed when it ends on October 31.

He says he will fight the decision because he was not given enough notice.

‘Marapelang Raphuthing, the finance and administration director in the same office, with whom Makhakhe worked closely, was fired last month after a disciplinary panel found her guilty of corruption and abusing government property.

She was alleged to have approved payments to companies linked to her son and using a government computer to watch pornographic websites. ‘Manthabeleng Shai, the acting head of procurement in the same office, was also last month suspended for three months after being found guilty of 19 corruption related charges.

She is alleged to have received gifts in the form of money, groceries, cooking gas and spectacles from companies that supplied goods and services to the prime minister’s office.

The disciplinary panel recommended that after her suspension she should be deployed to another government job unrelated to procurement.

Thato Masiloane, the deputy principal secretary in the Cabinet Office, who was charged together with Makhakhe, Shai and Raphuthing, was acquitted after the disciplinary panel said there was not enough incriminating evidence against her.

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