AN accomplice in a case in which the First National Bank (FNB) was defrauded over M4 million in 2008 on Thursday told the High Court that the bank’s former teller, Lehlohonolo Tsikinyane, masterminded the theft by providing keys to the bank.
The accomplice-turned-state witness, Motebang Ntlhabo, 37, told the High Court that they accessed the bank and stole the money after Mr Tsikinyane gave them the keys to the bank in Maseru.
Ntlhabo further alleged that Tsikinyane supplied him and other suspects with branded FNB T-shirts so that they entered the bank building without raising any suspicions.
Ntlhabo, who along with Tsikinyane, are among seven men who allegedly robbed the bank of over M4 million, said all this while giving evidence before High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monapathi on Thursday.
Tsikinyane and Lehlohonolo ‘Mote face charges of theft of M4 327 810, house-breaking and damage to property. The duo have not pleaded guilty to the charges.
Four other suspects in the multi-million maloti heist who have since died are Retšelisitsoe Seutloali, Monki Mojela, Saemane Qhoai and Lisema Ramokhoabane.
According to the charge sheet, “upon or about 26 October 2008 and at or near the First National Bank the said accused acting in concert and in furtherance of a common purpose did…unlawfully and intentionally…steal M4 327 810 and 7 cash boxes”.
Led in his testimony by Crown Counsel Adv Motšei Tlali, Ntlhabo told the court that before stealing the money from the FNB on 26 October 2008, he and Tsikinyane held meetings to plan the robbery.
Ntlhabo said that the meetings took place at his parental home at Khubetsoana and at his girlfriend’s home in the Stadium Area.
He said he made preparations to take money from FNB after “my friend Lehlohonolo Tsikinyane asked me to meet him and told me that there is money they could take at FNB”.
“He (Tsikinyane) said they were going to the City Branch and there was money going to be transferred from the headquarters.”
He further told the court that they then agreed that they should go to the FNB on Sunday 26 October 2008.
“However, while I was at home at Khubetsoana with Saemane Qhoai and five other people (on Saturday 25 October) who were included in the plot, Lehlohonolo Tsikinyane phoned me and told me that there was possibility that he could take money that day.
“I was still at Khubetsoana when I got the message from Tsikinyane saying I should come to his workplace. Upon arrival, I got into his car and grabbed a bag from back seat and put it next to me in the front seat.
“I opened the bag and I saw it had M1 million. We agreed to keep this money and add it to the money we would take from the bank on Sunday,” he said.
He said that they agreed that Mr Tsikinyane should take the M1 million that they had already stolen to the home of Tsikinyane’s sister in Thaba-Bosiu.
Ntlhabo further told the court that on the next day on Sunday, the entire team arrived at his home in Khubetsoana in a Kombi and a Toyota Corolla vehicle. He said Matobonyane or Saemane Qhoai produced two 9mm pistols and handed them over to one Lehlohonolo ‘Mote saying they would use them for protection.
“I got into the Corolla Car with Monki Mojela, and others got into the Kombi with Saemane Qhoai. Lehlohonolo Tsikinyane got into the Corolla and I took bank pin codes and keys from him (Tsikinyane).
“The mission then proceeded to FNB where the Kombi parked at King’s Way Cinema, while the car parked next to the bank near Econet opposite to Kingsway Cinema,” Ntlhabo said.
Ntlhabo said he asked Tsikinyane to go back to his home to fetch another FNB t-shirt which was then given to Saemane Qhoai.
“When Tsikinyane came back, Qhoai and I were able to get into the bank and we convinced the security guards at the bank that we were bank employees.
“Once we had convinced the security guards that we were workers, they let us in. We had a crow bar and pin codes and we deactivated the alarm system.
“We found nine cash boxes and five small baskets containing cash boxes and there was another money in small five boxes.”
Mr Ntlhabo said they then took the money to the car which was parked outside, locked the door and left after they had locked the bank.
He said that they drove along the way to Khubetsoana where they dropped the bank keys at Maqhekung.
The case has been postponed to 15 July 2019 for cross examination. Adv Motiea Teele KC and Attorney Monaheng Rasekoai are appearing for the defendants.