Nat Molomo MASERU — A man convicted of stealing M2.8 million from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) with the help of his girlfriend has lost his last bid for freedom. Stephen Dlamini had appealed to the Court of Appeal against both the sentence and conviction on five counts of fraud and one of defeating the course of justice.
In his October 19 ruling, Court of Appeal judge Justice Lionel Melunsky said Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase was correct when she convicted Dlamini in October last year.
Justice Mahase sentenced him to 62 years in jail but said he would spend 15 years behind bars because the sentences were to run concurrently. Justice Melunsky’s only qualm with the High Court judgment was that the sentence for defeating the course of justice was excessive.
Justice Mahase sentenced Dlamini to 15 years in jail for using magistrate ’Mampai Lesupi to tamper with his records so that he could escape from prison. Justice Melunsky said although the crime Dlamini committed was “undoubtedly a serious one” “the severity of the sentence was not in proportion to the gravity of the offence”. This, he said, was because Magistrate Lesupi, whom Dlamini had bribed to alter his court record, had been sentenced to six years, half of which was suspended.
The judge said the appropriate sentence for that count should be six years. He dismissed Dlamini’s appeal on the other five convictions. Dlamini’s legal team had argued that the sentences were harsh because the High Court did not consider the time he had spent in remand prison. But Justice Melunsky said he was convinced that the judge had considered that time.
The reduction however does not change the amount of time Dlamini will spend behind bars.
He will still spend 15 years as per the High Court judgment. The judge said he could not reduce the sentence on the five charges because “the frauds were not committed as a result of a spontaneous urge by the appellant to enrich himself”.
The crimes, Justice Melunsky explained, were “carefully planned” and “committed or attempted over a period of months”. “Nor did the appellant show any remorse,” the judge said.
“Even after his arrest and court appearances, he persevered in his criminal conduct by persuading a magistrate to falsify a court record. “It follows, in my opinion, that the effective term of imprisonment is completely justified.” The conviction and sentences of Dlamini arose from charges in the High Court pertaining to a series of fraudulent acts perpetrated against the LHDA between December 2004 and February 2005.
They formed count two to six in the High Court while count one, the charge of defeating or attempting to defeat the course of justice occurred some six months later. The High Court found that one of the persons who allegedly conspired with Dlamini on all the fraud charges was his lover, Peggy Thakeli, an LHDA employee. She was employed in the accounts departments as a qualified accountant.
The court observed that she was acquainted with her employer’s procedures relating to the payment of money out of the LHDA’s bank accounts. “That she was involved in the R2.4 million transaction is beyond question but that is not say that she was the only participant in the illegality,” the judge said. Thakeli is currently serving eight years for her role in the scam.
Dlamini was arrested in 2005 but managed to bribe the two magistrates to tamper with his court records to make it appear that his fraud charges had been withdrawn. He was released and fled to England in 2006 but was arrested two years later when he came back to Maseru. Advocate Molati appeared for Dlamini and Advocate Hjamlar Woker appeared for the crown.