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Garments trial drags 10 years on


AbubakerTefo Tefo

Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Investigations Manager, Sehleka Sehleka has revealed how concealed garments were recovered on the premises of prominent Masaru businessman Ashraff Abubaker 10 years ago.

Mr Sehleka made the revelations in the High Court on Monday last week when testifying against Abubaker, Attorney and Liquidator Stefan Carl Buys and former Deputy Sheriff Tsebo Monyako who are facing seven counts of theft, fraud and defeating the ends of justice.

The charges revolve around a joint search by the LRA, Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) conducted at Abubaker’s premises in the Maseru Industrial Area on 10 and 11 March 2005 during which garments worth M9 million were found concealed in an underground storage facility.

Mr Sehleka told presiding judge, Justice Tšeliso Monapathi, that he was a police officer at the time the search was conducted was conducted.

“In March 2005, I was a police officer attached to the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

“On 10 March 2005, I was on duty at Police Headquarters and Mr (Dlamini) Mphatsoane (then head of police operations) called me together with Mr Sefali and told us that there was a joint operation being conducted by the DCEO and LRA. He did not go into details but told us to join the operation.

“We were directed to take rifles and go to the Police Headquarters’ main gate where members of the operation would pick us.

“One Mr Ramakhula, who was employed by LRA, picked us up with a 4×4 truck but we did not go straight to Mr Abubaker’s place.”

Mr Sehleka said they asked Mr Ramakhula about the details of the operation as they had never been briefed about it by their immediate bosses.

“Mr Ramakhula said the LRA had received information that certain people were about to sell some goods that particular evening of 10 March 2005, contrary to the law.

“He said they had been informed that the goods were supposed to be a transported from a certain warehouse to where it was going to be sold in the industrial area.

“We moved around the industrial area and Mr Ramakhula told us that members of the LRA and DCEO were already on the premises of accused number one (Abubaker).

“As we were moving around, he (Ramakhula) was communicating telephonically with someone I did not know.

“He then told us we were being called to join the others at Mr Abubaker’s place, and upon our arrival, we found a number of LRA and DCEO officers, among them Mr (Thabiso) Thibeli from the DCEO.”

Mr Thibeli is the DCEO’s Chief Investigating Officer.

However, according to Mr Sehleka, the officers were waiting at Mr Abubaker’s gate as he was denying them entry.

Negotiations to gain entry into the premises, he added, appeared to be going nowhere until the then LRA Commissioner of Customs, Thabo Letjama arrived.

Mr Letjama is now LRA Commissioner General.

“Mr Letjama then took charge of the  negotiations and ultimately, the gates were opened and we went in. Mr Ramakhula had already highlighted that they were looking for boxes containing garments, and we started the search in the first factory.

“I asked Mr Ramakhula about Accused One’s involvement and he said he was the owner of the building,” he said.

Mr Sehleka further told the court that inside the factory were temporary workers.

“My investigations revealed that those workers were collected from the main traffic circle as casual workers,” he noted, adding there were four factories in the same building.

He further said they found sewing machines in Factory D, and not garments as alleged by the LRA.

“The operation was called off at midnight and we had a brief where Mr Letjama pleaded with the team to come again the following day.

“Until the operation was called off, Accused One (Abubaker) was always with us.

“I heard Mr Letjama asking Accused One if there was another storage that had not been  searched, but he said all the areas had been searched,” he said.

Mr Sehleka further said the following day, they searched Factory A again.

But this time around Mr Thibeli suggested that they removed piles of wooden pallets, which  were near the fence inside the factory.

“The pallets were removed and there was a trap door on the floor. The door was opened and we went through the staircases into the basement storage, where we discovered a number of boxes.

“I was told by one of the team members from LRA, Mr Malope, that the total number of boxes was 49,” he said.

Mr Sehleka said it is an offence to give false information to LRA officers, and Mr Abubaker had told them there was no underground storage at his premises, which was not true.

“After a long discussion between Accused One and the LRA officers, a decision was made to arrest him.

“He did not deny that he had lied, but his explanation was that the warehouse belonged to Mr Buys (Second Accused).

“I cautioned and charged him for violating provisions of the Customs and Excise Act. We then arrested and escorted him to Police Headquarters,” he said.

The case, which is being prosecuted by Advocate Henk Louw, continues.

Mr Abubaker is being represented by Senior Counsel Christo van Schalkwyk, while Attorney  Buys and Mr Monyako are represented by Advocate Tinus Barnard assisted by Advocate Thabo Mpaka.

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