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Former Fokothi officials grilled over M32 million scam

Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER Lerotholi Polytechnic (LP) rector Tsietsi Lebakae and former acting rector Palo Pokothoane appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Friday in connection with their involvement in an “unlawful enterprise” which prejudiced the state-owned institution M32 million between 2007 and 2015.

The duo allegedly connived to siphon millions of maloti from LP under the pretence that nine South African businesses were paid for equipment supplied to the institution yet no such equipment was ever supplied.

Mr Lebakae, who also served as Ministry of Health Principal Secretary under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven party coalition government, joined the institution in 2006 and was suspended in 2014 after it emerged that the institution owed M13 million in taxes to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).

Mr Lebakae stands accused of defrauding the institution M32 430 187, 16 through an illegal scheme which allegedly included Palo Pokothoane who was appointed acting rector immediately after the former’s suspension.

Mr Pokothoane held the substantive position of Deputy Rector Academic Affairs and Research from 2011 to 2015 when his contract was terminated for his alleged involved in the fraudulent scheme with   Mr Lebakae.

On Friday Messrs Lebakae and Pokothoane appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in connection with the alleged involvement in the disappearance of M32 430 187, 16 from the polytechnic’s coffers.

It was during that Friday session that a letter written by the police Commercial Crimes Counter Unit suggesting that the two were involved in an organised unlawful enterprise was presented as part of the evidence against Messrs Lebakae and Pokothoane.

The letter which was written by Officer Commander of the Counter Unit, Cedric Sera Makharilele, was contained in a report written to the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training, Thabiso Lebese.

Mr Makharilele stated in the letter that police investigations revealed that Messrs Lebakae and Pokothoane used nine companies to make fraudulent transactions to commercial banks in South Africa.

“Investigations to date have established that the following companies: Adam’s Horizon General Trading, R.S Components, Betty Stationers, S.G Tapping (PTY) Ltd, Laboratory Analytical Supplies, M & G Fasteners, BTM Technologies, Betty Stationers, S.G Tapping and Sons are involved in the fraudulent transactions that were conducted from the Lerotholi Polytechnic Standard Lesotho Bank account,” Mr Makharilele states.

“Scrutiny of the entire course of events by way of interviews revealed a systematic strategy by the suspects (Lebakae and Pokothoane) to defraud Ministry of Education/Lerotholi Polytechnic by paying suppliers/beneficiaries. Further investigations revealed a possibility of a joint scheme of an unlawful enterprise in these crimes as the said transactions ‘modus operandi’ is the same throughout.

“On the following dates, Lerotholi Polytechnic made fraudulent payments to a commercial bank in the Republic of South Africa First National Bank (FNB) (account number known to the investigators) under the following entities; Adam’s Horizon General Trading, RS Components PTY LTD, RS Components LTD, Betty Stationers, SG Tapping and Sons PTY LTD, M&G Fasteners PTY LDT and BMT Technologies. (Note: All these entities were fraudulently paid under one known account number),” Mr Makharilele said.

Mr Makharilele said that Lerotholi Polytechnic released funds totaling to M32 430 187, 16 to pay “bogus suppliers” in South Africa and that the monies were lodged into the account opened with FNB.

He said his unit had submitted specimen signatures of the investigation as well as Standard Lesotho Bank payment instructions to the South African Police Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis.

“We have sought mutual legal assistance in terms of the International Co-operation in Criminal Matters Act of 1966 for the Attorney General to request the assistance of the Director General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in South Africa to interview witnesses, take statements from witnesses and obtain documentary evidence from witnesses.

“We have also sought mutual legal assistance to access the bank accounts and legal entities in South Africa, relating to or having a bearing upon an investigation into fraud, aggravated theft and money laundering cases in the government of Lesotho’s Ministry of Education in which some monies being the subject of the said offences were deposited into the mentioned account at First National Bank South Africa and the accounts of the persons of interest which their accounts are known to us,” Mr Makharilele said.

The duo however, denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Pokothoane told PAC that he suspected that a former LP Senior Accountant Motale Nosi “got my signature through misrepresentation” when he signed letters to say that the companies had indeed delivered equipment to the tertiary institution.

Mr Pokothoane told the PAC that on 21 May 2014, he signed letters of instructed for M206 675, 84; M269 201, 12; M266 675, 02 and M269 201, 86 to be paid to different suppliers for the supply of goods sourced by the institution.

“At the time I signed, supporting documents for such payments were available and I believed that everything was in order as there were delivery notes and payment vouchers attached. I never followed up the matter and didn’t have the opportunity to get the evidence from the accounts department,” Mr Pokothoane said.

On his part, Mr Lebakae said: “I remember the name of the company (Elektro Vroomen) because it supplied us with equipment for the Science and Engineering department”.

“It might have happened that I signed for the cheques (for M348 616, 69) but it cannot be true that the equipment was never supplied because there were supporting documents I signed for the payment,” Mr Lebakae added.

The meeting was indefinitely adjourned to enable former LP employees – Limpho Nchephe, Motale Nosi, Mpho Morojele and Moshe Sesoane to be subpoenaed to appear before PAC.


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