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From state witness to convict

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Staff Reporter

 MASERU — The story of Reatile Mochebelele and Letlafuoa Molapo has been told countless times.

Many reports have recounted how the two, who represented Lesotho in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), fell from grace.

Yet that story has rarely mentioned a little anecdote that exposes how hypocritical the two crooks were.

Way back in 2000, before they were found out, Mochebelele and Molapo were considered men of integrity.

Probably because of that perception, which unfortunately was wrong, they were called as witnesses to testify in the bribery and fraud cases against Masupha Sole, the former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).

The two were the most senior officials of the commission that had oversight over the project for which the LHDA was the implementing authority.

Sole was in the dock facing charges of taking bribes worth M6 million from foreign companies that had been awarded contracts during the project.

He was facing 18 charges.

When they took the witness stand during Sole’s trial, Mochebelele and Molapo were impressive.

They told the court that Sole’s corrupt activities had damaged the reputation of the project and that of Lesotho.

Sole was convicted on 13 charges, 11 of fraud and two of bribery.

He was sentenced to 57 years in prison but was due to spend only 18 behind bars because most of the sentences ran concurrently.

Mochebelele and Molapo had nailed Sole.

It was to be another four years before the irony and hypocrisy of the whole episode came to light.

In 2006, the two were charged with taking bribes from Lahmeyer International, a German company that was providing consultancy services to the LHWP during the construction of Katse Dam.

The irony is that Lahmeyer International is one of the companies that had given Sole the bribes that eventually sank him.

As it would emerge, this is the same company that was also greasing the palms of Mochebelele and Molapo.

The two men had their hands in the same cookie jar as Sole.

Apparently they had also received the Lahmeyer International bribes during the same period that Sole got his sweetener.

The hypocrisy of it all is that the two men had the audacity to testify against Sole.

They also had the nerve to say Sole’s actions had damaged the country’s reputation.

That Sole’s actions had damaged the country’s reputation was true but the court would surely have preferred not to hear that from two crooks who were actually doing precisely the same thing.

But the irony does not end there.

Before the case started Mochebelele apparently manoeuvred his way to become one of the key witnesses against Lahmeyer International.

For a moment it looked like he was going to testify against the company that had bribed him.

But the tables were to be turned when Lahmeyer International struck a deal with the prosecution and agreed to testify against him instead.

At that moment Mochebelele moved from the witness box to the dock and thus began his protracted battle to avoid jail.

He seems to have succeeded so far because Lesotho is still battling to have him extradited from South Africa to serve his 10-year jail term in his home country.

Molapo is already doing his time probably in the same prison with Sole.

Mochebelele will probably meet Sole and Molapo if Lesotho’s extradition application is approved at the end of this month.

Another irony: because of his squeaky clean “reputation” and “credentials” amassed during his time at the LHWP, Mochebelele had been appointed a special advisor on water matters for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, better known only as Nepad.

Obviously the world didn’t know the real Mochebelele.

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