Caswell Tlali MASERU — The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) last week raided a senior magistrate’s office and seized court documents which are suspected to have been forged. The DCEO suspected the documents in magistrate Molemo Monethi’s possession could have been tempered with. The documents relate to a court case between businessman Moeketsi Tsatsanyane and Lesotho Public Motor Transport Company trustee, Ishmael Monare. DCEO investigators also confiscated files from local lawyer Tekane Maqakachane. The anti-corruption unit believes documents from Maqakachane could help establish if there was a forgery or not.
The investigation started after Tsatsanyane told the DCEO he suspected that someone might have fiddled with his court documents to make him lose the case against Monare. Tsatsanyane has confirmed that he reported Monethi and Maqakachane to the DCEO for “suspected forgery”.
“This case needs forensic investigations which I believe will prove beyond doubt that these documents have been tampered with,” Tsatsanyane said. “I am hopeful that the DCEO will confirm my suspicions.” Tsatsanyane however said he could not give further details because he didn’t want to “jeopardise the investigation”. DCEO spokesperson Litelu Ramokhoro confirmed that the anti-corruption body confiscated documents from the magistrate and lawyer but said further details on the investigation were “not ready for public consumption”.
The raid on Monethi has triggered panic among other magistrates who believe the DCEO’s move threatens the independence of the judiciary. Sources close to the matter say the Chief Magistrate, Molefi Makara, disapproved of the raid on Monethi’s chambers and raised the issue of the independence of the judiciary but the DCEO ignored his warnings.
“The DCEO felt that it was within the parameters of law and acted as it wanted,” the source said. Makara told this paper on Friday that he was not ready to talk about the issue “because it is complicated”. “We need enough time to talk about it,” Makara said. Other magistrates are said to have questioned the motive behind the raid. “Other magistrates say, in the circumstances, the suspected crime did not warrant the confiscation of files from the magistrate,” the source said. “They deem this as undermining the independence of the judiciary.”
But Law Society of Lesotho president, Monaheng Rasekoai, said although he did not have details of the raid he believes a magistrate is not immune to investigations by the police or any other relevant authority. “It is only if such investigation is baseless that we can say the independence of the judiciary is tampered with,” Rasekoai said.
“A magistrate is not above the law and can be investigated if there is sound suspicion that he is committing a crime,” he said. “However, when law enforcement agencies abuse their powers by unreasonably raiding offices of judicial officers for cases that cannot be proven, it is then that we will say the independence of the judiciary is under attack.” “Investigations against anybody should be justified.”
On the raid at Maqakachane’s office, Rasekoai said it is wrong for law enforcement officers to raid law firms and confiscate documents because they will have access to files containing privileged information. “Information between a lawyer and client is legally confidential and the police do not have legal powers to have access to it except through an order of court,” he said. Maqakachane confirmed that the DCEO officers went to his office but declined to disclose the purpose of their visit. Efforts to contact Monethi were not successful on Friday.