MASERU — A South African national who used his lover to defraud the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) of M2.8 million in 2004 was on Friday sentenced to 62 years in jail by the High Court.
Stephen Dlamini, who appeared before High Court judge Justice ’Maseforo Mahase, was also convicted of bribing two female magistrates in a bid to defeat the ends of justice.
Dlamini, 55, will however serve only 15 years because his six sentences for fraud and defeating the ends of justice will run concurrently.
The High Court found Dlamini guilty of defrauding the LHDA of M2.8 million acting in concert with his lover, Peggy Thakeli, and later using two magistrates ’Mampai Lesupi and Itumeleng Letsika, to escape from prison.
The court heard that Dlamini instructed Thakeli, who was an accountant at the LHDA, to transfer M2.4 million from the authority’s ABSA account in South Africa to a First National Bank account owned by one Soleman Sameer in 2004.
The court found that at the instruction of Dlamini, Thakeli contacted a former Telecom Lesotho employee, Seqao Phenya, to instal a telephone line at Dlamini’s house to facilitate the fraudulent activities.
The telephone line was intended to divert LHDA calls to Dlamini’s house and the fax was programmed in a way that it would appear to be an LHDA fax.
The same fax was used to give payment instructions to ABSA Bank for the withdrawal of the M2.4 million.
According to evidence by the prosecution, Thakeli’s fraudulent transfers were made under false pretence that Sameer was a contractor who had provided services to the LHDA.
Thakeli was also found guilty on four counts of fraud in which she and Dlamini forged quotations to make it look like the LHDA was the one buying construction materials from a fictitious hardware called Iketsetseng.
Thakeli is currently serving eight years after she was convicted last April.
Dlamini was arrested in 2005 but managed to bribe the two magistrates to tamper with his court records to make it appear that his fraud charges had been withdrawn.
He was released and fled to England in 2006 but was arrested two years later when he came back to Maseru.
The two magistrates are awaiting sentencing after the High Court found them guilty of defeating the ends of justice last month.
Passing sentence on Friday, Justice Mahase said by defeating the ends of justice Dlamini had “hit at the very heart” by manipulating the magistrates so that they could neglect their service to the community.
“There is no doubt in the mind of this court that the count of defeating the ends of justice is very serious,” Justice Mahase said.
“Giant institutions like the LHDA and ABSA Bank were hit at the very heart of their operations,” she said, adding that Dlamini was the mastermind of the fraudulent activities committed by the magistrates, Thakeli, and the telecom employees.
“The accused person is worse than Peggy Thakeli and the telecom employees he used,” she said.
“Worse still he has never shown remorse for having planned and committed these offences.”
Justice Mahase said defence lawyer, Letuka Molati’s arguments for extenuating circumstances were not enough to convince the court that Dlamini should be given a lesser sentence.
“The defence has notably refrained from highlighting even the role played by the accused in the commission of these crimes,” she said.
“The defence seems to have overlooked the fact that the accused absconded to England.”
“Had he not absconded his case could have been dealt with a long time ago together with Peggy Thakeli’s.”
However, Justice Mahase said in passing the sentence the court had not ignored the fact that Dlamini had already spent three years in prison.