The High Court on Thursday cleared former Finance Minister Timothy Thahane of fraud a day after the prosecution withdrew corruption charges against him in another unrelated case.
Thursday’s case was linked to government’s Block Farming project in which Dr Thahane was accused of corruption involving slightly over M18million.
According to the charge sheet, Dr Thahane on June 6 2008 allegedly misrepresented to Standard Lesotho Bank that Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, and then Agriculture Minister Ralechate ‘Mokose, had endorsed a Block Farming project for vegetable farmers belonging to Temo-‘Moho Mpharane Agricultural Association of Leribe, resulting in government losing M18, 092, 587.50.
When the charges were first preferred against Dr Thahane in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court, they included misuse of funds for payment of petrol for the association.
However, when the case was brought before the High Court, Dr Thahane was only charged with the M18, 092, 587.50 fraud.
But on Thursday, Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi set Dr Thahane free because the prosecution had failed to prove its case against Dr Thahane.
Justice Monaphathi had adjourned the case on 25 February 2016 to 10 March after Dr Thahane’s lawyer, Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza, and crown counsel Guido Penzhorn, argued whether the former minister should be discharged or not.
During the argument, Advocate Ntsebeza urged Justice Monaphathi to discharge his client on the basis that the evidence presented in court by the prosecution did not prove any financial or potential loss to government and the bank.
“Evidence presented by the Crown did not prove any prejudice to the government or the bank; either actual or potential.
“Nothing has been said by the witnesses regarding the amounts of money alleged to have been paid to the farmers,” he said.
Advocate Ntsebeza further said Dr Thahane had been denied his constitutional right to a fair trial even before the case started, adding this should also be the ground 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 did not get all the documents.
“That amounts to violation of one’s right to a fair trial which the accused is guaranteed under the constitution,” he said.
Senior Counsel Ntsebeza further explained why it was proper for the court to discharge Dr Thahane at that stage of the proceedings.
“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, Senior Counsel Penzhorn insisted Dr Thahane had a case to answer, and urged the court to dismiss the application for discharge so he could testify.
However, Justice Monaphathi agreed the prosecution had failed to discharge the onus on itself so that the former minister could be bound to defence himself.
Meanwhile, Dr Thahane’s discharge came a day after the prosecution withdrew fraud and bribery charges against him in a different High Court case in which he was accused of allegedly defrauding the government of over M19 million. The case pertained to a wool and mohair project agreement the government entered into with Civa Innovations (Pty) Ltd in 2010.
In that case, he was charged alongside his former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Mosito Khethisa, Civa Innovations and its director Mokhethi Moshoeshoe.
However, the prosecution withdrew the charges after striking a plea-bargain with Mr Khethisa, Mr Moshoeshoe and Civa Innovations, who pleaded guilty.
The court slapped Mr Khethisa with a M30 000 fine or 12 months jail if he failed to pay the money, while Civa Innovations was ordered to repay the government M6,5million. This was the money the company received form the government regarding the project.
The prosecution, which was not ready to proceed with the case against Dr Thahane, then withdrew the charges against him.
Charges were also withdrawn against Mr Moshoeshoe as part of the plea-bargain.