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End of the road for top cop Ntaote

Tefo Tefo

 

MASERU — Deputy Police Commissioner Motsotuoa Nta-ote’s career is as good as over after the Court of Appeal convicted him of fraud on Friday.

Ntaote’s case reached the Court of Appeal after the prosecution had appealed against the High Court’s decision last June to acquit the top cop on two fraud charges related to false per diem claims for foreign trips.

Ntaote, 45, had been charged with two counts of fraud for allegedly soliciting full per diem rates for two official trips he undertook with five other police officers to South Africa in 2005 and 2006.

Justice Gabriel Mofolo had however set him free saying there seemed to be a conspiracy in the police force to destroy Ntaote’s career.

The prosecution appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that Justice Mofolo had erred in his judgment because he had ignored evidence tendered by crown witnesses against Ntaote during trial.

On Friday the Court of Appeal found Ntaote guilty on one fraud count and dismissed the other.

“The appeal against the respondent’s acquittal on count two is dismissed,” the judgment said.

“The appeal against the respondent’s acquittal on count one is allowed.

“The order of the court a quo for the acquittal of respondent on that count is set aside.

“Substituted for that order is the following: ‘On count one the accused is convicted as charged.’”

The fraud count for which Ntaote was convicted involves a full per diem claim he made for a trip to South Africa where he attended the South African Regional Police Corporation Chiefs Organisation (SARPCCO) games in September 2005.

Following the false claims the treasury department paid Ntaote and each of the five police officers M12 387.44.

Ntaote was convicted after the prosecution proved to the Court of Appeal that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Police Commissioner ‘Malejaka Letooane had authorised a quarter per diem rate but Ntaote had instead claimed a full per diem rate.

“Focusing on count one, the respondent could not deny that a quarter rate had been authorised by the commissioner and the minister,” the judgment said.

The Court of Appeal also criticised Justice Mofolo for stating in his judgment that Ntaote was discriminated against because he had been charged alone yet he had committed the offence with five other police officers.

“The trial judge’s reasons, unfortunately, do not involve a systematic analysis of the evidence or an examination of the issues, and they are not always readily comprehensive,” the judgment said.

“As regards the judge’s finding of unfair discrimination, it is for the prosecution to decide who, of several suspects, it will indict and once an accused has been indicted the non-prosecution of other persons is only relevant if it can reasonably possibly bear on the issues arising in the trial against the accused.”

Ntaote’s conviction could mean an end to his career because the police statutes say once convicted a police officer loses his or her job.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha yesterday told the Sunday Express that the law does not allow a convicted police officer to continue serving in the police service.

“We have a law stipulating that a police officer cannot serve in the police service once he has been criminally convicted,” Masupha said.

However, Masupha said he could not comment on Ntaote’s case because he did not have the details.

The Court of Appeal ordered that Ntaote’s case be referred back to the High Court for sentencing.

“The matter is remitted for the hearing of evidence and/or argument in relation to sentence, and the imposition of sentence thereafter,” the judgment said.

The judgment was prepared by Justice CT Howie with the assistance of Justice Lionel Melunsky and Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane.

Ntaote was still holding his position as deputy police commissioner after he won a court case in which he wanted Letooane to reinstate him after he was cleared of fraud charges by the High Court last June.

He approached the court for his reinstatement after Letooane had refused to reinstate him on grounds that Ntaote’s case had not yet been finalised because it was still pending before the Court of Appeal.

Ntaote was on interdiction when his trial was still proceeding in the High Court.

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