DPP Motinyane speaks on Lipolelo murder case
- hits back at police bosses for claiming she is to blame for delays in prosecuting ex-premier Thabane.
Herbert Moyo | Mohalenyane Phakela
THE Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, has hit back at Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, and his deputy Paseka Mokete, over their claims that she is to blame for delays in prosecuting ex-premier Thomas Thabane over allegations that he murdered his ex-wife Lipolelo.
To the contrary Ms Motinyane said the delays in prosecuting Mr Thabane and other suspects for Lipolelo’s murder rested squarely on the shoulders of the police bosses whom she said had largely failed to cooperate with her office.
In an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday, DPP Motinyane complained her office had been under “relentless and sustained attack from the Commissioner (Molibeli) and his deputy (Deputy Commissioner of police — DCP) Mokete over matters they could have clarified with her before going to the press”.
She said DCP Mokete had, among other things, failed to bring in Assistant Police Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa to be interviewed by her office in connection with the Lipolelo murder.
DPP Motinyane was responding to Commissioner Molibeli and DCP Mokete who last week told the Lesotho Times that they were “baffled” why DPP Motinyane had still not charged Mr Thabane with the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo.
They said the failure to charge Mr Thabane, more than a year since Commissioner Molibeli first disclosed that the former premier and his current wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, were prime suspects in the murder, was despite that the police had played their part in investigating and building a “water-tight” case against him.
Last Sunday marked exactly a year since a warrant of arrest was issued for ‘Maesaiah who had fled the country only to be arrested on her return and charged with Lipolelo’s murder. She was initially charged on 5 February 2020 and remains out on bail without a day fixed for her next court appearance.
On the other hand, Mr Thabane- the first sitting premier in the history of this country to be accused of murder- is yet to appear in court to be formally charged over the murder allegations. This is despite that the cornerstone of the police’s case against the former first couple is based on the alleged use of Mr Thabane’s mobile to communicate with the killers during the commission of the crime.
Mr Thabane had initially argued that he could not be charged while still in office and was even granted leave by the Maseru Magistrates’ Court to petition the Constitutional Court over the matter.
The argument is nevertheless no longer valid after he was forced to step down in May 2020 by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) in favour of the current incumbent, Moeketsi Majoro.
Despite this, Mr Thabane is yet to be formally charged and the murder case appears to have stalled. Both Commissioner Molibeli and DCP Mokete blames the failure to charge the ex-premier on DPP Motinyane.
“The matter has not been forgotten or abandoned. We are still going to go after the other suspects,” DCP Mokete told the Lesotho Times last week.
“The only hurdle we are having is the delay by the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
“We have submitted all our papers and everything is orderly and we don’t know what the hold- up is all about. We are sure that we have a water tight case against all the people who were mentioned as suspects,” DCP Mokete said in response to a question about why Mr Thabane had not been charged.
On his part, Commissioner Molibeli said the matter was out of their hands as they had submitted all the relevant files to the DPP.
“We have since submitted all the relevant paperwork to the office of the DPP and we don’t know what is causing the delay,” Commissioner Molibeli said.
However, Adv Motinyane yesterday rubbished their claims, saying that progress had been delayed by “a wide range of challenges”, some of them caused by Commissioner Molibeli and DCP Mokete themselves who she alleged had failed to fully cooperate with her even when she had requested them to do so.
“The delayed progress in the case against the former prime minister has a comprehensive history that is not limited to the office of the DPP as is being suggested by the commissioner and his deputy in the Lesotho Times,” DPP Motinyane said in an interview with the Sunday Express.
“I am prepared to respond to the allegations but I would plead that I be given time while I consult on whether the media would be an appropriate forum for my intended response.
“Very briefly, I would say that my office has sustained a relentless attack from the Commissioner (Molibeli) and his deputy (DCP Mokete) unfortunately over matters which they are not very conversant with or could have sought clarity from me before going to the press.
“There has been a wide range of challenges ranging from technical matters to subtle and outright pressures which have impacted negatively on the prosecution’s steam in pursuing the case. I have not relented a bit from any of these challenges and as the public knows, I have engaged a private prosecutor (South African Adv Shaun Abrahams) to assist with the case precisely to rid my office of impressions of bias owing to the profile of the case,” DPP Motinyane said.
She said she needed time to consult before issuing a fuller response “to ensure that I do not in any way bring into disrepute any implicated office, officers, or arm of the government of Lesotho”.
“I appreciate the call of my office and the responsibility to protect its integrity at all times hence my intention to consult before I respond to the allegations.
“Notwithstanding that, I need to set the record straight. I intend to refer similar facts or related instances of cases that are still incomplete even today, many thanks to the similar challenges that have stalled prosecution of cases such as the failure by the commissioner and his deputy to bring key persons of interest for me to interview them.
“DCP Mokete, who is now the lead investigator in this case has failed to bring in his deputy, ACP Lebajoa to be interviewed by my office in connection with this case,” DPP Motinyane said.
While Ms Thabane has been charged with the Lipolelo murder, the failure to charge her husband, Mr Thabane, hitherto has dumbfounded all and sundry. Even Mr Thabane had himself expected to appear in court after he addressed supporters at his house on 6 July 2020 and told them that he expected to appear in court the next day. This was after Mr Thabane had been ousted as prime minister and his argument that he could not be charged while in office had fallen away. Mr Thabane may himself be surprised why action hasn’t been taken against him.
It was Mr Thabane’s phone that is said to have been used during the commission of the crime. During her bail hearing, Ms Thabane said she could not be held accountable for the usage of her husband’s phone. That had prompted speculation that Mr Thabane would be arraigned sooner to explain why his phone had been used.
The Lipolelo murder case attracted widespread and unprecedented international attention on Lesotho with news crews from key world media including CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera all descending on Maseru at one go to cover Mr Thabane’s first court appearance in February 2020. The lack of action on the high-profile case since then has ignited further attention on Lesotho with international media chat groups suggesting that the lack of prosecutions and judicial action on the matter mirrors the paralysis of Lesotho’s political system which has seen at least four changes of government in under eight years.
While others have speculated that DPP Motinyane came under pressure from the government not to charge Mr Thabane, the police bosses — Commissioner Molibeli and DCP Mokete — lays the blame for lack of progress in the matter squarely on what they perceive as the DPP’s incompetence. They insist that the police investigated and built a water tight case against Mr Thabane and other accomplices. The DPP is however sitting on the docket, they allege. But the DPP maintains that is not true. While promising to issue a comprehensive response latter, she nevertheless claims further work was needed on the docket but the police bosses had stalled progress because they ignored her instructions.
Meanwhile, another of Commissioner Molibeli’s assistants, Motlatsi Mapola, has rubbished the whole claim that Mr Thabane killed his ex-wife.
ACP Mapola, who is engaged in a legal war of attrition with his boss, says Commissioner Molibeli “fabricated” the whole story that Mr Thabane had participated in the murder because the police chief wanted to save his own skin (see anchor story on Page 2). But Commissioner Molibeli dismisses ACP Mapola’s claims. The police chief says his stance on the matter will be vindicated if it finally goes to court.
Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah are prime suspects in the Lipolelo murder because they are deemed to have been frustrated with the latter’s continued litigation which had stalled ‘Maesaiah’s wish to become First Lady. The courts had ruled that Lipolelo was the true First Lady until her divorce proceedings with Mr Thabane were finalised. Lipolelo was thus entitled to enjoy all the benefits of First Lady. This is said to have enraged Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah. The latter was said to be impatient to become First Lady as Mr Thabane’s latest young recruit. Indeed, soon after Lipolelo was gone, the two rushed to formalise their marriage and Ms Thabane fulfilled her wish to become the official First Lady. Apart from the Thabanes no other person or persons have been mentioned as having had an interest in seeing Lipolelo dead.