Yet another postponement for Thahane trial

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High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara on Tuesday granted the prosecution’s application to postpone a fraud case against former Energy, Meteorology and Water Affairs Minister, Timothy Thahane and suspended Finance Ministry’s Principal Secretary Mosito Khethisa by three weeks.

Dr Thahane and Mr Khethisa are charged alongside the director of Civa Innovations (Proprietary) Limited company, Mokhethi Moshoeshoe, for allegedly defrauding government of M19 million in 2010.

The prosecution last month asked the High Court to reschedule the trial because it wanted to bring more evidence pertaining to the case, from South Africa.

And when the application was expected to be argued on Tuesday last week, the case was rescheduled for Thursday, to allow the prosecution time to submit its heads-of-argument.

Defence lawyers, Advocates Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza and Christo Van Schalkwyk, however, argued the heads-of-argument should not be accepted because they were “irregular”, which Justice Makara agreed with in his ruling on Monday this week.

The court then heard a lengthy argument from both the prosecution, through  Advocate Guido Penzhorn and the defence, about whether the case should be postponement or not.

In his address, Advocate Penzhorn told the court the postponement was to allow the prosecution access to certain documents in South Africa.

The documents, he added, included a report by audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers that the prosecution intends to use to advance its case against Dr Thahane and his co-accused.

However, the defense argued further postponement would amount to a violation of the accused’s right to a fair trial.

The team also argued if the application to postpone the case was rejected, the  prosecution had the discretion to withdraw the charges if it was not ready to proceed with the trial.

“Besides, the prosecution has the right to reinstitute the charges if it so wishes,” Advocate Ntsebeza submitted.

However, Justice Makara granted the application and postponed the case for three weeks, without stating the exact date when trial would resume.

In his ruling, Justice Makara said he granted the application after considering all submissions made by the lawyers on both sides.

“In reaching the conclusion, the court took into consideration the violation of the rights of the accused.

“In other words, the court should balance the rights of the accused with the interests of justice.

“The court finds that there is need for the crown to be given an opportunity to prepare itself.

“The postponement is allowed but should not be beyond three weeks, on a strong note that there must not be any other postponement,” he ordered.

During the argument, Advocate Ntsebeza said he opposed the postponement because he wanted to dispel “the perception created within society that the accused were responsible for the delay”.

Meanwhile, charges against Dr Thahane and his co-accused revolve around a contract awarded to Civa Innovations by government on 29 April 2010 for a wool and mohair project, allegedly in contravention of the country’s procurement regulations.

Mr Khethisa, who was suspended in April last year after being charged in a different fraud case, and Mr Moshoeshoe, first appeared in the Magistrate’s Court in October 2013.

Dr Thahane later joined the case as he was not present when the case was first remanded on the first day of the trial.

According to the charge sheet, Dr Thahane and his co-accused are facing two counts— fraud and bribery.

The fraud charge reads: “On or about the 29 April 2010 or thereafter in the district of Maseru, the accused, sharing a common purpose, unlawfully, deliberately and with the intent to defraud, represented to the government of Lesotho or the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning that an agreement entered into between the Ministry and Accused Three (Civa Innovations Management {Proprietary} Limited) on 29 April 2010 in respect of Wool & Mohair Product Development, complied with Public Procurement Regulations of 2007. This was done with the intention that the ministry should act upon the said misrepresentation to its prejudice and to the prejudice of the government of Lesotho, by paying to the accused three sums totaling M8 379 070.50; M9 772 000.00 and M915 596.85 and did thus commit the crime of fraud.”

On bribery, the charge sheet reads: “On a date unknown to the Crown but before 29 April 2010, Accused Three (the company) and Four (company director Mr Moshoeshoe) corruptly offered a consideration to Accused One (Thahane) and Two (Khethisa), who corruptly agreed to accept such consideration in return for action in their official capacities as public officials—Accused One in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Development Planning and Accused Two as Principal Secretary.

“Such action by Accused One and Two was facilitating a contract between the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, on the one hand, and Accused Three on the other, on 29 April 2010, in respect of Wool and Mohair Product Development. Such consideration was in the form of a share in the proceeds of funds received by Accused Three in respect of such contract.”

Meanwhile, Dr Thahane also stands trial for a different case in which he is facing a charge of fraud.

In this case, he is charged with allegedly defrauding the Lesotho government of over M24 million in respect of the Block Farming Project, when he was still the Minister of Finance and Development Planning seven years ago before moving to the Ministry of Energy in 2012.

According to the charge sheet, on 6 June 2008, Dr Thahane allegedly misrepresented to Standard Lesotho Bank that then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili and then Minister of Agriculture, Ralechate ‘Mokose, had endorsed the Block Farming project for vegetable farmers at Temo-‘Moho, Mpharane Agricultural Association of Leribe, resulting in government losing M18 092 587.50.

The second count relates to Dr Thahane’s alleged misrepresentation to Standard Lesotho Bank that fuel supplied to Temo-‘Moho, totaling M6 076 502.68, was payable by the Bank to the suppliers, Engen Lesotho Limited.

However, the state argues M4.8million had already been paid out to Temo-‘Moho by individual farmers and Dr Thahane was aware of this.

Dr Thahane made his first appearance in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on November 4 2013 and was allowed to go home after paying M10 000 bail and M100 000 surety.

He was also ordered to report to Directorate On Corruption and Economic Offences investigators every last Friday of the month, as part of his bail conditions.

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