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Astoria Bakery murder linked to work dispute

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By Nat Molomo

MASERU — Thabo Phohleli, the Astoria Bakery managing director who was brutally murdered last September, could have been killed by his fellow workers because he was allegedly blocking their severance packages.

This was revealed on Tuesday during a High Court hearing in which two of the four murder suspects were applying for bail.

The crown made the allegations during a bid to block the bail application. 

The four suspects who have been in custody since their arrest last October worked at Astoria Bakery with Phohleli.

Seabata Ramohajane and Khotso Nthejane on Tuesday pleaded with the High Court to be released on bail while they wait for trial.

The other two suspects Tello Mabusela and Thabang Kotelo are yet to apply for bail.

During the bail hearing the court heard that Nthejane, who worked as the human resources manager at Astoria Bakery, disagreed with Phohleli over the retrenchment package for the workers who had been laid off.

The crown counsel Lehlanako Mofilikoane, who was opposing the bail application, told the court that Nthejane had conspired with his co-accused to kill Phohleli because he opposed payment of severance pay to Astoria Bakery workers.

“There were issues in which the petitioner (Nthejane) had with the deceased Thabo Phohleli.

“The petitioner was on the side of the workers who wanted to be paid,” Mofilikoane said.

The hearing was postponed to Tuesday.

Mofilikoane was basing his argument on an affidavit of one investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Khanyapa, which alleged that Nthejane and his co-accused conspired to kill Phohleli.

Nthejane’s lawyer Advocate Thulo Hoeane tried to convince High Court judge Justice Ts’eliso Monaphathi that his client would not abscond if granted bail.

 “He loves his country and has never harboured any intention of relocating to any other place,” Hoeane said. 

“He stands to lose his job for no apparent reason if he is continually detained,” Hoeane said.

He asked that Nthejane be granted bail on condition that he pays bail of M1 000 and hands over assets worth M30 000 as surety that he would not flee the country.

Nthejane and his co-accused are facing an additional two counts of murder.

They are further facing charges of armed robbery for allegedly robbing Phohleli of a motor vehicle bearing registration number A8616, a cellular phone Nokia N75, a travel document No. RA 177180, office keys and residential house keys in September.

They are also charged of possessing illegal firearms.

The bail hearing was postponed to Tuesday this week.

No date has been set for the actual trial.

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