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Khaketla acquitted

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MASERU – DR ‘Mamphono Khaketla was sifting through some documents when her secretary came into the office. She handed Khaketla, who was the minister of finance, a paper that would disrupt her life in more ways than one.

It was early November 2016. It was a letter from the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) inviting Khaketla for questioning.

She was not entirely shocked. She had seen the hurricane coming a few weeks earlier when a director of one of the companies vying for the government’s fleet management contract alleged that she had demanded a M4 million bribe.

It was a spectacular revelation, coming with all the gory details of how Khaketla had used someone to solicit the bribe on her behalf so she could have plausible deniability if there was a backlash.
That someone was Thabo Napo, a former soldier, who was allegedly close to Khaketla.

The bribe, said the Lebeonyana Fleet Solutions director, had been demanded at her house. He however didn’t say who had instigated the meeting but said it happened in March 2017 and that it was Napo who did most of the talking.

As social media, newspapers and radio stations buzzed with the salacious allegations, Khaketla braced herself. Political opponents seized on the claims to demand her resignation. At 10am on November 6, 2016, Khaketla walked into the DCEO’s office and was ushered into a room with four investigators.

The three men led the interrogation while the woman, who did not ask a single question, seemed to have been invited to only observe. When the interrogation started the line of questions told her that they were getting ready to charge her.

The interrogation lasted until 3pm. In those five hours every detail of her life was turned inside out as the officers probed for answers. Her bank statement was placed on the table.

“How much money do you make,” one officer asked.

“You can see it’s only my salary that comes in there,” she replied.

“And how about those other amounts,” another probed.

“When you see other amounts it’s the per diems because I would have travelled,” she said, amused that they had managed to access her bank records but still wanted her to explain it in detail.

They then turned to an email that Khaketla thought had nothing to do with their investigation.

“Why do you send an email at 2am?” asked another officer, referring to an email she had sent to a senior officer in her ministry months earlier.

She explained that she might have sent the message when she was in another time zone on official business.

“In any case why does it matter who and when I send an email,” she quipped, now exhausted and irritated by the back and forth.

The investigators were also keen on details about her foreign trips, all of which were official and unrelated to the investigation of the tender. They asked why she had cancelled the tender process in June that year.

She explained that there were some gross irregularities and the decision had been made by a sub-committee that included the Minister of Transport, Law, local government and public service. One of the officers announced that she was being charged with corruption and abuse of office.

He said they would take her to the police headquarters across the road for a mugshot and fingerprints. She refused, arguing that she felt unsafe going to the police because they were notorious for torturing suspects. They relented and a policeman came to the DCEO offices instead. Chin up. Flash.

Turn to the right. Flash. To the left. Flash. The ink pad was brought in for her fingerprints.

“I felt humiliated. They were treating me like a criminal and I could sense they were deriving some pleasure from the whole process,” Khaketla says.

She would however wait for another seven months for the DCEO to bring the case to court. The appearance, in June 2017, was a spectacle that the media were milking for sound bites, pictures and colour.

Such events are fodder for the media. Here was a minister of finance accused of demanding a bribe. The international media picked up the story. Local radio stations were blazing as callers, egged on by audibly excited presenters, took turns to brand her a thief. She pled not guilty and bail was set at M5 000.

The condition was that she was supposed to report to the police every Friday before 5pm. Thabo Napo, her co-accused, had the same conditions. Khaketla was now officially a guest of the country’s painfully slow legal system.

And for the next five years, it lived up to its well-earned notoriety. The prosecution imported a prosecutor from South Africa, Advocate Hjalamr Woker. And as if following some sacrosanct rule book the prosecution started playing the postponement game.

Khaketla was bleeding cash in legal costs with each appearance and delay. She was fighting with a state that had no limited resources with her ministerial salary. The prosecution continued to request postponements.

It was either its lawyer was not available or witnesses could not be found. It was a war of attrition and it left her out of pocket. Her money woes would worsen a few weeks later when the government fell and she lost her job.

Three years later Advocate Woker withdrew from the case saying he was too afraid to travel to Lesotho because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DCEO also pulled out of the case after one of their witnesses died and the other two became hostile. That should have been the end of the case but the DPP insisted on pursuing the case with its own prosecutor.

On one occasion the new lawyer appeared in court without a robe and the judge promptly threw him out. He was there to ask for another postponement on claims that he had just been briefed about the case.

He got his wish and Khaketla’s bill went up by a few thousands.

Khaketla and her legal team had long been drained of their last ounce of patience. Early this year her lawyer applied for a discharge arguing that the prosecution was not ready to proceed with the case.

Curiously, the DPP, which has clamoured for the case when the DCEO pulled out, did not oppose the application for discharge. Perhaps they had taken the case and Khaketla as far as they could go and it was time to let go. Last Friday, Justice Makara granted the discharge but had stern words for the prosecution which she chastised for stringing Khaketla.

Khaketla walked out of the court a free woman but she is badly bruised. During that five-year ordeal, she could not apply for a job or visa. She failed to accompany her daughter to the United Kingdom where she had enrolled.

When she graduated two years later, Khaketla was still unable to apply for a visa because of the court case. Meanwhile, she could only salivate at the jobs that were within her qualifications and experience but she could not apply with the case hanging over her head.

“They have stolen five years of my life. A whole five years,” Khaketla says, adding that people refer to her as ‘Khaketla of Bidvest’.

“They damaged me when I was 57, the prime age at which I was likely to be appointed to some senior position at international organisations. No one could touch me despite that I was qualified.”
Her applications were acknowledged but there were no follow-ups.

She believes there was a political hand at play.

“I believe one senior Congress politician who is now heading an opposition party and was in the government with me, was behind this sting operation on me. He did a job on me.”

Khaketla can now rebuild her life and career but she accepts that it will be a monumental task. The internet still records her as a former minister facing corruption charges.

“In July 2016, Khaketla was accused of soliciting a bribe for a major government contract in a case that was before the courts. She denied the allegation,” says Wikipedia.

“Lesotho’s great car ‘con’,” says new24.com.

By last night there was no entry on her acquittal. The media that was there when she first appeared in court in 2017 was not there.

“I would have wanted my day in court so that I could prove my innocence. But I have to apply for discharge because this was clearly a sham trial instigated by political enemies,” she says.

“I will take what the court has given me and try to mend my life. It hurts but that is Lesotho’s politics and justice system for you.”

“Your name is dragged in the mud and you suffer the consequences without much recourse. This is the trend and it has to stop.”

She now has to pick up the pieces without the media’s help to spread the message of her acquittal.

Shakeman Mugari

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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