MASERU — Reatile Mochebelele, the convicted former boss of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), tried to duck jail by claiming that Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki instigated his prosecution because of a long-standing grudge.
Mochebelele, who is wanted in Lesotho to serve a 10-year jail sentence for corruption, made the claims in his application for refugee status in South Africa.
This was soon after his conviction last year for receiving bribes from Lahmeyer International, a German consultancy firm which was engaged by the LHWC for the Katse and Mohale dam projects.
Mochebelele was Lesotho’s chief delegate on the commission.
Letlafuoa Molapo, who was Mochebelele’s deputy and accomplice in the bribery crime, is currently serving a three-year jail term at Maseru Central Prison.
But Mochebelele has been holed up in South Africa after choosing to apply for political asylum instead of coming back home to face the music.
That move stalled Lesotho’s attempts to have him extradited.
When his asylum application was declined on December 4 2009, Mochebelele appealed to the Refugee Appeal Board, an independent tribunal which offers asylum seekers who have their applications rejected a second chance to prove their claims.
However, the board also threw out his appeal on November 23 2010, paving the way for Lesotho to start extradition proceedings against him.
Yet it is the justification that Mochebelele gave to back his application for political refugee status in South Africa that makes interesting reading.
In his appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board, Mochebelele claimed he was prosecuted at the instigation of Moleleki with whom he alleged to have had a long-standing feud.
Because of this alleged feud, Mochobelele claimed, Moleleki went all out to have him convicted.
He said Moleleki was fired as the public relations manager of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), an institution that fell under the LHWC which Mochebelele headed.
This was sometime between 1991 and 1992 and Mochebelele, an agricultural engineer by profession, had been heading the commission since 1986.
He said immediately after Moleleki became the minister of natural resources under which the LHWC fell, he told him that he could not work with him.
Mochebelele claimed Moleleki told him that he would not renew his contract because he was not attending Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) meetings in the run-up to the 1993 elections.
According to Mochebelele, there were further clashes in 1994 when the commission ordered an audit of the LHDA’s management.
He said Moleleki ordered him to stop the audit but he persisted and went ahead as planned.
The results of the audit, Mochebelele claimed, only further strained relations between him and the minister.
It led to the dismissal and eventual prosecution of the LHDA chief executive, Masupha Sole, who Mochebelele claimed to have been good friends with Moleleki.
Sole is currently serving 18 years in prison for a number of bribery and fraud convictions.
In evidence that the Refugee Appeal Board describes as “voluminous” Mochebelele further alleged that in 1995 a representative of Lahmeyer International, one Dr Spies, told him that he had been ordered to leave the country because of his relationship with him.
Mochebelele said Spies told him that the only reason he had been expelled from Lesotho was because the minister was not happy that he was renting a house from him.
He further claimed that his relationship with the minister did not improve in the late 1990s.
He alleged that in 1999 Moleleki refused to sign employment contracts for him and Molapo because he just did not like them.
The two worked for three years without contracts, Mochobelele claimed.
The minister refused to renew their contracts in 2002, he alleged.
He said he only learnt in 2003 that he was being investigated when he was already working in South Africa as an adviser to Nepad.
Mochebelele said trouble followed him when Moleleki was appointed foreign affairs minister in 2004.
In 2005, a magistrate in Pretoria told him that Lesotho’s foreign affairs ministry had requested information about his property in Midrand and wanted his accounts frozen, Mochobelele claimed.
“The attorney-general of Lesotho, Adv (Lebohang) Maema, was posted to New York after word went around in Maseru that he felt there was no case to prosecute the appellant (Mochebelele),” he alleged.
In the appeal, Mochebelele portrayed himself as an innocent man who was persecuted by Moleleki because the two had “differences”.
To prove that there was an alleged agenda to persecute him, Mochebelele pointed at his sentence which he said was harsh.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to forfeit M800 000 of the M1 million he had initially paid as fine.
The Refugee Appeal Board was however not convinced that Mochobelele was a victim of politically motivated prosecution and it rejected his appeal on November 23.
In its ruling the board said it found it improbable that Moleleki had set in motion the process to persecute Mochebelele.
It pointed that while Moleleki had become a minister in 1993, investigation into Mochebelele’s case had only started in 2003.
Even then, the board reasoned, the information that triggered the investigation had not come from Moleleki but from a Lahmeyer International official who was based in Lesotho.
“The board is of the opinion that if Minister Moleleki wanted to prosecute the appellant (Mochebelele) maliciously because of their imputed political different opinions he could have and probably would have done so long before the corruption and bribery charges were brought against the appellant and his co-accused (Molapo),” the board said.
It ruled that Mochebelele had also failed to prove that “Moleleki or the Lesotho government was actuated by malice”.
“The evidence does not show that, apart from differences between them, Minister Moleleki or any government official ever threatened the appellant with threats (that) may have shown malice,” the board said.
Mochebelele had also failed to prove that “criminal proceedings were instituted upon false charges”.
The board also added that although he had denied receiving the bribes the Appeal Court of Lesotho had found otherwise.
The Refugee Appeal Board’s ruling means Mochebelele can no longer apply for refugee status using the same reason in South Africa.
That also means that the extradition case against him will have to proceed.