Court blocks Thabane’s bid to suspend Molibeli
- Molibeli accuses premier of going after him to protect police minister from arrest and trial
BARELY a month after the High Court ruled against his move to oust Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli on the grounds of his alleged incompetence, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has launched a fresh bid to suspend the police chief.
Just as he did to stop the previous attempts to suspend or sack him, Commissioner Molibeli has sought and obtained an interim High Court order to stop Dr Thabane from acting against him until his main application for the nullification of the planned suspension is finalised.
In granting the interim order on Friday, Justice Semapo Peete said, “the matter is sub judice (pending before the courts) and the status quo (Commissioner Molibeli remaining in office) must be maintained until the final determination (of Molibeli’s application to stop Dr Thabane from suspending him)”.
Justice Peete ordered the respondents – Dr Thabane, Police Authority and Attorney General – to file their answering affidavit on or before Tuesday 21 April and for Commissioner Molibeli to file his replying affidavit on 23 April 2020.
The main application will be heard on 27 April 2020 but yesterday Commissioner Molibeli was arrested by the military police along with Deputy Commissioner Paseka Mokete and Assistant Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa.
In his 15 April 2020 letter to Commissioner Molibeli, Dr Thabane says the move is necessary to facilitate investigations against the police boss after a case of perjury was filed him by one of his subordinates.
Dr Thabane said it was alleged that Commissioner Molibeli committed perjury when said that he was transferring one of his subordinates from Maseru to Qacha’s Nek because there was only one senior officer responsible for that district.
The premier said he was advised that Commissioner Molibeli’s statement was false because there were three senior officers at the level of senior superintendent and two senior inspectors in that district.
Dr Thabane therefore wants Commissioner Molibeli requesting that the latter to “show cause” cause why he should not be suspended to facilitate investigations into the alleged perjury.
In his court papers, Commissioner Molibeli states that Dr Thabane’s latest bid to suspend him is motivated by the premier’s desire to protect Police and Public Safety Minister, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, from being charged with contravening lockdown regulations by allegedly buying alcohol beverages in Maseru. Mr Moramotse was recently caught on camera buying liquor from a shop owner of Chinese origin in contravention of regulations forbidding the sale and purchase of alcohol. For the duration of the lockdown which began on 30 March and ends on 21 April 2020, all liquor outlets are supposed to be closed but this particular liquor shop was allegedly opened to enable the minister to purchase alcohol.
“One Mr Lehlohonolo Moramotse, who is also the 2nd respondent herein, contravened the COVID-19 regulations by buying alcohol beverages in Maseru, and we investigated the case,” Commissioner Molibeli says in his court papers.
“Apart from the violation of COVID-19 Regulations, there were also allegations of Mr Moramotse having performed an illegal water connection at Ha Motloheloa, which were also investigated.”
Commissioner Molibeli said the two dockets were presented to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane who gave directives for the police to charge, arrest and arraign Mr Moramotse before the magistrates’ court tomorrow.
Commissioner Molibeli said he was reliably informed by some intelligence sources that Mr Moramotse knew that he would appear in court and sought protection from Dr Thabane.
He said since there was no other way of protecting the minister, the case of his alleged perjury was then used to suspend him “as a ploy to prevent the arraignment of Mr Moramotse”.
He argued that Dr Thabane’s move to suspend him was illegal in that only His Majesty King Letsie III had the power to suspend him and not the prime minister.
“The 1st respondent (Dr Thabane) therefore has no power in law to suspend me, as only His Majesty the King has the exclusive power to do so under the law. The 1st respondent’s role in these circumstances is limited only to advising His Majesty,” Commissioner Molibeli states.
Dr Thabane’s renewed efforts to go after Commissioner Molibeli followed one Police Senior Inspector Leluma’s decision to lodge a criminal case against the police boss.
According to Dr Thabane’s “show cause” letter to Commissioner Molibeli, the police authority informed him of a criminal case brought against the police boss for alleged perjury.
“I have been informed by the police authority that you committed perjury by intentionally making a false statement in judicial proceedings before the High Court,” Dr Thabane said.
He said it was alleged that Commissioner Molibeli suggested that he was transferring one of his subordinates from Maseru to Qacha’s Nek because there was only one senior officer responsible for that district.
He said he was advised that Commissioner Molibeli’s statement was false because there were three senior officers at the level of senior superintendent and two senior inspectors.
“I have considered this matter and taken a view that the allegations against you, particularly when a criminal case has already been lodged against you in an institution that you head, it will be in the interests of justice that investigations into this matter are conducted fairly and objectivity.
“It follows therefore that it cannot be fair and right that you remain in office while criminal investigations are conducted against you by your subordinates. I have been advised by the police authority and reasonably believe that advice that there are reasonable fears among your subordinates to discharge their mandate and duties fearlessly because you are still in office.
“I therefore intend to exercise my powers to suspend you pending finalisation of the criminal investigations…
“In the circumstances, I hereby invite you to show cause, if any, before I use my powers to suspend you from office pending investigations and in the interests of justice.”
The premier’s bid to suspend Commissioner Molibeli is the latest in the long-running conflict between the two. The conflict began when Dr Thabane attempted to send the police boss on forced leave in January 2020. When that failed, the premier then attempted to suspend him.
That too failed after Commissioner Molibeli challenged the move in court. On 10 January 2020, Dr Thabane then wrote to King Letsie III advising His Majesty to immediately appoint Senior Assistant Commissioner Janki Hlaahla as the new police commissioner.
Dr Thabane claimed that Commissioner Molibeli had taken early retirement, a fact which was disputed by the latter in his ultimately successful court challenge.
In his court papers, Commissioner Molibeli accused Dr Thabane of seeking to get rid of him to avoid prosecution for the 14 June 2014 murder of the latter’s estranged wife, Lipolelo. The police chief said investigations into Lipolelo’s murder pointed to Dr Thabane’s involvement. Dr Thabane denied attempting to fire Commissioner Molibeli to stop the Lipolelo murder probe. The premier claimed his decision was driven by his desire to rejuvenate the police force which was allegedly being hamstrung by what he described as Commissioner Molibeli’s incompetence.
First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane has since been charged with the murder of Lipolelo and the attempted murder of her friend, Thato Sibolla.
Dr Thabane has moved to stop the state from charging him by filing a Constitutional Court application saying he cannot be charged with any crime as long as he remains in office as prime minister.