THE Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the March 2016 High Court judgment that cleared former Energy minister, Timothy Thahane of fraud charges concerning the government’s block farming project dating back to 2008.
Dr Thahane was facing fraud charges for allegedly misrepresenting to the Standard Lesotho Bank that Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had endorsed the inclusion of vegetable farming for Temo ‘Moho Mpharane Agricultural Association in a block farming project in 2008.
Dr Thahane was the finance minister at the time he was alleged to have committed the offence.
High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi, in March last year, acquitted Dr Thahane of fraud charges in relation to the block farming project the government embarked on in 2008 when he was still the Minister of Finance.
Dr Thahane had been charged with misrepresenting to the Standard Lesotho Bank that the Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili had endorsed inclusion of vegetable farming for Temo ‘Moho Mpharane Agricultural Association in the block farming project in 2008.
According to the charge sheet, Dr Thahane on June 6 2008 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 belonging to the Temo-‘Moho Mpharane Agricultural Association of Leribe, resulting in government losing M18 092 587.50.
But Justice Monaphathi freed Dr Thahane on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prepare a case for Thahane to defend.
The prosecution subsequently appealed against the judgment.
However, the Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed the appeal and upheld the High Court judgment.
The reasons for the Court of Appeal’s decision were not disclosed in court on the day but the full written judgment will be available tomorrow.
Justice Monaphathi discharged Dr Thahane in the High Court last year after his lawyer, Senior Counsel Dumisa Ntsebeza submitted that he be discharged on the grounds that the evidence presented in court by the prosecution did not prove any financial loss or any potential loss to the government and the bank.
Advocate Ntsebeza also said his client had been denied his constitutional right to a fair trial even before the trial started, saying this was also grounds for his discharge without getting into the witness box to defend himself.
“We asked for further particulars from the prosecution before the trial started but we did not get all the documents.
“That amounts to a violation to the right of a fair trial which the accused has under the constitution,” he said.
He further said it was proper for the court to discharge Dr Thahane at that stage of the proceedings so that he did not get into the witness box only to assist the prosecution to secure conviction against him.
“It would not be proper for the accused to get into the witness box only to incriminate himself, although it is highly unlikely that he would incriminate himself,” he said.
On the other hand, the lawyer representing the crown, Senior Counsel Guido Penzhorn insisted Dr Thahane had a case to answer and urged the court to dismiss the application for the discharge so that Dr Thahane could testify in his defence.
But Justice Monaphathi agreed that the prosecution had failed to discharge the onus of proving there was a case so that the former minister could be put to his defence.
He therefore freed Dr Thahane, a ruling which has since been upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Dr Thahane was removed from his ministerial position in 2013 during the coalition government of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP).
He was then a member of the LCD.
He later defected from the LCD and contested the 2015 snap election in Likhetlane constituency as an independent candidate and he lost to the ABC.
He is the candidate for the Alliance of Democrats (AD) in the same constituency for the snap elections to be held on 3 June.
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