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‘I am a victim of an elaborate witch-hunt’

Caswell Tlali

PRETORIA — Controversial businessman Eyob Asemie whose Lesotho citizenship was revoked in October says he is a victim of an elaborate witch-hunt after he clashed with high-ranking government officials.
Asemie, who is of Ethiopian origin, has been stranded in Pretoria, South Africa, since October after the government revoked his Lesotho passport on October 19. Two days later he used the same passport to travel to South Africa on a business trip. But when he tried to return to Maseru on November 2 through the Caledonsproot border post, he was blocked by South African immigration officials after they had received notices from their Lesotho counterparts that his passport was no longer valid.

Asemie has since then been holed up in South Africa while he waits the High Court to hear his urgent application against the decision to revoke his passport. The government of Lesotho has in the past alleged that Asemie was at the centre of an intricate human trafficking syndicate that used Lesotho as a corridor to smuggle people into South Africa. A special government taskforce set up to investigate Asemie last year alleged that the businessman was involved in criminal activities related to the trafficking of Ethiopians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis into Lesotho. It was due to these allegations that the government decided to ditch plans to grant him citizenship. The report said “it is now beyond the shadow of doubt that Mr Asemie’s source of income is facilitation of entry into Lesotho through Moshoeshoe I International Airport of Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals and then assists them to proceed to the Republic of South Africa”.

Former government secretary Tlohlang Sekhamane, now MP for Mokhotlong, wrote to former Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla on March 12 saying that Asemie should not be granted citizenship.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express in Pretoria on Tuesday, Asemie rubbished the claims adding he was appalled by the way the Lesotho government had treated him. He accused the government of “missing the real case” and focusing “on a little personal fight between me and some officials”. “This has nothing to do with their baseless allegations,” he said. “It is personal. This is a personal fight with some individual government officials and it needs not involve the state as a whole.” He added: “As proof that the government is not handling my case in good faith and with a clean conscience, look at how its statements are contradicting,” Asemie said.

“They prevent me from entering the country and at the same time they announce that I am wanted and anybody seeing me should tell the police,” he said. “I have not run away from Lesotho and I want them to open the borders for me so that I can challenge their decision in court,” he said. Asemie said the government should arrest him and charge him in court if they can prove he committed any crime.
“I also want the government to give evidence that I travelled to Dubai and Brazil (as they alleged),” he said. Asemie told this newspaper that he is being punished after he tipped some senior police officials about alleged human trafficking perpetrated by high-ranking government officials. He declined to name the officials saying the time was not yet ripe. “Even when the 26 Chinese nationals arrived at (Moshoeshoe I) airport I was the one who alerted the police,” he said.

“I was only surprised when that case was never investigated to finality.” He was referring to 26 Chinese nationals who arrived at Moshoeshoe I Airport from Mozambique without proper documents in July last year. They were later deported. Asemie also claimed he had at one time led the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to a Chinese national who lived in Lesotho and who was believed to be instrumental in bringing illegal immigrants into the Kingdom. Asemie claimed the Lesotho government had last week also blocked his wife from securing a South Africa visa for a medical check-up saying her refugee status was dependent on her husband. Asemie has had serious run-ins with the government in Lesotho. The government has refused to swear him as a citizen despite a High Court order and recommendations by the Ombudsman. The government claims Asemie is involved in human trafficking, a charge he denies.

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