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The Victoria Hotel heist



MASERU-THE Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is investigating a company that runs the Victoria Hotel for money laundering, corruption and other crimes.

The DCEO is also looking at how the company was granted the lease to operate the hotel and then failed to pay rentals to the government for 20 years.

Also dragged into the investigation is former Finance Minister Timothy Thahane who is alleged to have facilitated the granting of the lease without following procurement procedures.

The late principal secretary of the Ministry of Finance, ’Mamotšehare Mphutlane, is accused of the same.

At the centre of the alleged scandal is Sobita Investments (Pty) Ltd, the company that holds the lease to Victoria Hotel.
Sobita is owned by Thabiso Tlelai, a well-known Mosotho businessman based in South Africa.

This week the High Court granted an order allowing the DCEO to seize Sobita’s property and freeze its accounts.
This was after the anti-corruption unit had argued that it had reasons to believe that the properties and the monies in the accounts were proceeds of unlawful business operations, corruption and money-laundering.

In a 34-page affidavit, Tsotang Likotsi, the DCEO’s principal investigation officer, gives a detailed account of how the crimes were committed over 20 years.

He tells the story of how procurement regulations were allegedly twisted and avoided to grant the lease to Sobita. He says Sobita then operated Victoria Hotel for two decades without paying rent.

During that time, Likotsi says, Sobita then transferred nearly M40 million to several companies in South Africa in an alleged money laundering scheme. He says at the same time the company was also operating the hotel without a licence and continued to mislead the government that it had renovated and upgraded the hotel.

He alleges that at some point Sobita was struck off the company registry but continued to operate for 52 weeks while masquerading as a registered entity.

Likotsi’s investigation goes back to 2003 when the Ministry of Finance gave Sobita the lease to the hotel.
It is alleged that Thahane and Mphutlane were instrumental in granting the lease without following procurement procedures.

Likotsi said the Central Tender Board was not involved and the tender to manage the hotel was never advertised.
Likotsi says Thulo Mabatla, the ministry’s former procurement officer, had confirmed that “there was no procurement process handled by the (Central Tender Board) relating to the contract in his tenure from 2001 to 2007”.

Mabatla is said to have told the anti-graft body that he learned about this anomaly around 2010 when he was serving at the Contracts Management Unit.

Likotsi says the Finance Ministry “decided to adopt a different procurement method altogether which was not substantiated or supported by any legal instrument”.

He tells the court that the then Finance principal secretary, Motena Tšolo, told the DCEO that she conducted investigations and established that there were no minutes showing that procurement regulations were followed.
“She went further to check in all offices and further asked relevant offices and officers about the procurement of the contract but found nothing,” Likotsi says.

In July last year the DCEO asked Thahane to explain how the lease was granted. Specifically, they were asking him to account for the rentals. They also wanted him to confirm if ever they were paid, where and when.
In addition they wanted answers on who monitored and evaluated the refurbishments made at the hotel, who checked the books of accounts for the renovations and the cost of the renovations.

Likotsi says Thahane told them that he signed the sublease agreement with Sobita “following Cabinet approval”.
Likotsi however refutes this by pointing out that the cabinet had no authority to approve government contracts or their procurement.
“The act of Cabinet would still annihilate proper procurement systems,” he said.

Thahane said he was not involved in the implementation, supervision and audit of any agreements that he signed, including agreements with development partners.

Those agreements, he told the DCEO, were implemented and supervised by the official including the Accountant General or the principal secretaries.
But Likotsi says he does not believe this explanation because “if that was true, officials of the Ministry of Finance including the PS Tšolo in this case, would know of such”.

“Tšolo denies there is any such record. She further denies that there is any office under her supervision that has knowledge of this contract.”
“There is no record of any Cabinet decision which Thahane referred to which approved the contract of Victoria Hotel”.

He notes that Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka “made it a point that the decision to grant a contract to Sobita was a ministerial matter reached by the Minister of Finance”.

This, Likotsi says, indicates that Thahane and Mphutlane “intentionally abused the functions of their offices in their capacity as the minister and PS respectively in violation of the laws”.

“As a result of procurement breach and corruption, Sobita benefitted unlawfully from the contract,” he says, adding: “It has acquired, possessed or used the property, being the proceeds from Victoria Hotel.”
“It would be naïve on their part not to know that as a result of their activities and actions, the hotel becomes the proceeds of crime.”

“They would also be naïve not to know that the offence of money laundering was involved and the hotel was used to launder money.”
He said it goes without saying that the government knew of the crimes and that the hotel was used as a conduit to commit crimes.

Likotsi alleges that Thahane said the hotel was renovated and upgraded “but he could not confirm the value of the renovations”.
Sobita, according to the DCEO, had said it spent over M12.2 million in the hotel renovations but failed to account when the ministry wanted information.

The other expense that Sobita claimed for the upgrading of the hotel was over M27.7 million.
The company however allegedly failed to provide details and cost of the renovations when asked by the Ministry of Finance.

Likotsi claims that Sobita owes the government over M15.3 million in rentals but was raking in millions in revenue.
For instance, over these years Sobita business accounts received over M7.7 million “in relation to Victoria Hotel”.

Over another three years it received M17.1 million.
Some of the monies were then transferred to South African companies “with the aim of concealing or disguising their illicit origin,” Likotsi says.

“The monies and proceeds received from the contract remain to be tainted in the hands of Sobita. The integration of the proceeds further disguises the true nature, origin, location, disposition, movement or ownership of the proceeds.”
The main recipient of the monies from Sobita was a company called Liciatron.

SAJTrust, Power Trust and Zelpy also received substantial amounts.
“Succinctly, Victoria Hotel was used or allowed to be used to commit an offence of money laundering.”

Likotsi claims that between December 2014 and April 2019 Sobita was operating illegally after it was struck off the company registry.
He also says from May 2019 to date it is operating illegally because it does not have a valid licence.

“It is clear that the property was used for criminal purposes, and to commit a series of offences over an extended period of time.”
“With this number of incidents established, the more easily the inference may be drawn that the property in question is indeed an instrument of an offence.”

“The repetitive nature of the criminal activities was not fortuitous and incidental to the purpose of the property. On the contrary, it was deliberate and planned.”

Likotsi says the government only acted in 2019 when the new PS Tšolo evicted Sobita from the hotel.
Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole, the DCEO’s director general, told the court that the investigation started in July last year after an anonymous tip off.

Advocate Manyokole said according the contract Sobita was to pay the government M60 000 in monthly rental over 10 years “but the Ministry of Finance said there was no payment for those 10 years and the further period”.

He said they are preparing a criminal case.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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